When Mike McClelland began writing, he said he didn’t want to initially be seen as a “gay writer” and instead be recognized for his ability to write on other experiences.
“But the stories I was coming up with were not working,” the Meadville native said. “People weren’t responding to them. I wasn’t having as much fun writing. About six months into my writing life, I decided OK, just write what you want to write.”
McClelland’s epiphany ended up working out; he will release his first book, “Gay Zoo Day: Tales of Seeking and Discovery,” Sept. 1. The book features eight short stories of various genres with queer characters at their center. Stories range from space adventures to ghost stories to love stories. McClelland noted how each takes place in a location around the world, such as Hong Kong, New York City and South Africa, to name a few.
“The idea is that each of the stories is a different exhibit that you would walk past in the zoo,” McClelland said.
The 32-year-old, who currently lives in Athens, Ga., with his husband, said the first “gay” story he wrote was about pilots in Venezuela during the 1920s.
“I really wanted to write stories that had characters in it that I cared about and LGBT characters that I had been missing [while] reading growing up,” McClelland said. “And in doing that, I just kind of unlocked all of these ideas that I wanted, over the years, to explore.”
He noted how the basis of the book was to find stories that readers traditionally find in literary short fiction, which he said tends to be “very straight and very eastern.”
“I thought, Let’s take them around the world, have characters from all over but also make them LGBT characters,” McClelland said. “It was really kind of exciting to take stories I recognized and turn them on their head a little bit.”
He noted that he wanted to take these traditional literary short stories and make them “really gay.”
“When you have a straight story, it’s so often that it’s character-first,” McClelland said. “And in a lot of cases, you get these full written straight characters that are allowed to be good and bad in literary short fiction in the straight world. I wanted to see those things happen to gay characters.”
He said aspiring writers should try to experiment in different genres to determine their passions, adding he tried writing on several different topics but then when he found the writing that “got [his] pulse going” and couldn’t stop, he knew it was working.
“So many of our queer stories aren’t being told because the dream is to have a best-seller and to be very popular, and you think you need to write something that the market is demanding,” McClelland said. “These stories that come from the heart and are the things you always wanted to write, when other people read them and they see those stories and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the story I always wanted to read,' it’s so powerful.
“When I finally just sat down and was like, ‘I want to write the stories I want to write,’ that’s when I started having any kind of success.”