My first novel contains no explicit sex. Although sex and sexuality play key roles in the story, there are no descriptions of steamy foreplay, not one pounding orgasm. A few lose their virginity, but the act occurs off camera, conspicuously minus the Dirty–Dancing-esque scene where “Baby” loses IT to her dance instructor in a miraculous first experience: no awkwardness, no nervousness, no pain, smoothly choreographed from tender start to climactic finish. So forget Romance and Erotica genres.
As for Paranormal — no character turns out to be a vampire, werewolf or zombie. The protagonists, antagonists, stars and supporting players are unmistakably human. No Family-Genus-Species variety, whatsoever.
While the book takes place in the 1973-’74 school year (ancient history from the perspective of today’s adolescents), it does not qualify as Historical Fiction. And although Caroline (the protagonist) experiences Hollywood High as an alien world, the book does not merit Dystopia.
I wrote Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable in reaction to the violence I witnessed, targeting the gay students. I created the story in support of the LGBTQIA community, and as a voice against bullying. The novel unfolds through the eyes of Caroline, a 15-year-old girl, a straight LGBTQ ally. Her friendship group is bound by personal connections, rather than an are-you-gay-or-straight litmus test. Her inner circle includes boys and girls, from differing religious and socio-economic backgrounds, racially and sexually diverse.
Like many adults, I remember my high school years with high-voltage clarity: how the asphalt in Hollywood High’s quad became sticky in the heat – how we were incapable of stringing together a sentence without cursing at warp speed – how the hallway walls reverberated with high volume as we herded from one class to another – how we forced ourselves to appear absolutely certain, although we felt absolutely confused all the time. I remember the first time I saw blood in a gang fight, and the casually vicious hatred directed at the gay boys. I also remember the gifted educators, role models for both education and decency, tireless in their dedication – and the students I met who showed an adolescent version of those same gifts.
The other day, a college freshman told me he liked my book, but was puzzled by the Gay and Lesbian genre. He hadn’t thought of the story as focusing on LGBTQ issues, front and center. He’s quite right, in that Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable is a story about decency and friendship. It’s about the dangers of unchecked bigotry. No huge division exists between the gay and straight characters. Both are presented as equally important and entirely normal — or in the words of my young friend, “no big deal.”
My novel is listed on Amazon as Literary Fiction, Coming of Age, Gay and Lesbian, Young Adult. When my readers finish my novel, their most common questions (aside from Did-That-Really-Happen?) address genre. How can the category be Gay and Lesbian when there are so many straight characters? Why is the main character straight, with so many gay and lesbian issues? What’s my “target group” of readers -gay or straight?
I hope that some day, if Gay and Lesbian remains a genre, the category will exist due to human interest, not due to the marginalization of a group. People are much too nuanced for simplified categories, and marginalizing is always a terrible mistake, damaging and hurtful on every level, for all of us.
Perhaps some books are meant for a clear “genre.” But some won’t easily fit into a category, and it seems my book is one of those. What’s my genre? All of the above…and I have no idea. Or maybe, in this case, it’s “no big deal.”
Novels by Amy Kaufman Burk
Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable
Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to witnessing gay students bullied in high school.
Caroline Black, a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, complex and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of same-sex parents, as a voice against the stigma of therapy.