|Graphic by YIKES,Inc.|
"Fans of Tyler's shamelessly seductive blend of fast-paced action,
ruthless characters and hard sex will gobble up this high-caloric bonbon."
-- Publishers Weekly
What's this? A hardcover novel showing a guy in teal spandex, with a rainbow flag adorning his skating boot? Obviously, Rainbow Ice had to check this out.
Turns out author Ben Tyler characterizes Gay Blades as "summer beach reading," a classic tale of the rise and fall of a bad-seed ingenu tour skater ("Tag") who's hiding all sorts of secrets behind his baby face. Along the way, lots of men have lots of sex, especially Tag (who, in one memorable scene, gives new meaning to the phrase "getting hammered").
The book is set in the world of low-rent touring ice shows, but it's not a tell-all. It has nothing to do with eligible competition, either, as Tyler lets us know right off the bat when his protagonist ("Garry") gets thrown out of the American Skating Society (A.S.S.) for being openly gay. Instead, we get a sometimes campy, sometimes hilarious gay male skewering of the tackiness that abounds when talented skaters miss eligible greatness but still want to earn money skating: pruney skating officials, amoral tour operators, catty competition on the show circuit, accommodations slightly less grand than what the Stars on Ice or Tom Collins skaters enjoy (in describing Tag's tryst with a stranger in a Howard Johnson, Tyler notes, "They fell back on the teal-colored bedspread that matched the drapes, that matched the rug, that matched the upholstery on the sitting chair").
There are lots of fantasies in this novel. There are, of course, sex scenes of many varieties. There's a running fantasy about monogamy and true love, as well. It's a slightly different universe, populated by gay men everywhere: the doormen, the cab drivers, the police officers, guys making out passionately in public. When you stumble into the hotel room of a stranger, it's someone gay and hot.
The author's skating fantasies, however, strike a different tone entirely. The skating is never lampooned. In this universe, the chorus boys have triple axel combinations. There is reverent mention of male-male pairs, of "skater's glutes," of gay skating heroes such as Brian Orser and Rudy Galindo, of superb moves like Galindo's "reverse Biellmann" spin (also known as a "shotgun" or a "front catch"). The music used by skaters is never ridiculed, either; some readers will recognize in the author a kindred soul who has clearly choreographed his own fantasy programs more than once.
Most figure skating fans in North America are straight women, not the intended audience for Gay Blades. Fans who receive their skating news via television and the media know that there is rarely any acknowledgment at all that homosexuality exists in skating, let alone that there's a reason other than stereotype alone that skating has a reputation for being a gay men's sport. Some of these spectators may be unfamiliar with the very representative gay male perspective that Gay Blades gives on the sport: the awareness of closeted queens in skating, the assumption that all male skaters are gay even if they're not, the sarcasm about P.R. attempts to play down the sport's gay element. The figure skating establishment may not have much to say about gay male culture -- at least, not officially -- but as Gay Blades proves, that doesn't stop gay male culture from having something to say about figure skating.
Rainbow Ice: Do you skate?
Ben Tyler: I started taking lessons about a year ago and I'm now at the Delta level. I wouldn't want to be in a world without figure skating! It's truly my passion.
Rainbow Ice: What made you decide to start skating? Where do you skate?
Ben Tyler: I have wanted to skate since I was six years old. I recall the exact moment when I knew that I had to skate. It was wintertime and we had just moved to a small town in Massachusetts. We drove by a pond and I saw people skating on the ice. I was hooked. However, my folks would not let me have figure skates, let alone take lessons. It was considered "sissy" for a boy to want to learn to ice skate. Despite my begging, I was only allowed to have hockey skates. Then I grew up. Proud to be a "sissy," I took to the rink! I mainly skate at Pickwick in Burbank [California]. My coach is terrific. Although she doesn't talk about it, I think that her background includes starring in Ice Capades, or Ice Follies. Speaking of Ice Follies, the fabulous Richard Dwyer skates at Pickwick. He's a delightful man.
Rainbow Ice: Have you attended skating competitions or shows live? What about touring shows?
Ben Tyler: I love attending competitions. I entered my first one last year and won (adult Alpha!). I'll be competing in the Delta category this year, as well as an artistic program. And yeah, when I was a kid, without my folks knowing, I would sneak into Boston to catch the Ice Follies every year!
With regard to my skating competitions, that was never in my plan. I simply did not want to leave this planet without doing one of the things that had been deprived of me when I was a child, and that was to learn to skate. It was at my coach's strong suggestion that I entered the Alpha level last year. I have to say, I LOVED IT! I wasn't nervous for an instant. Excited, yes. But I was there for one purpose: to fulfill a fantasy! Skating is everything I ever imagined, and so much more. I would strongly encourage any adult who has always had it in their soul to skate, to stop dreaming about it and go to their nearest rink. Don't be intimidated by the five-year-olds who are little spinning machines. Just have fun.
Rainbow Ice: Did you do any research on life with a touring show? Have you talked with gay pro skaters who have toured?
Ben Tyler: Researching touring ice shows I talked with a couple of people. One was a performer, the other was an artistic director. Both told horror stories. Apparently, it's not a lot of fun on the road.
Rainbow Ice: What made you decide to populate your bottom-of-the-barrel touring show with chorus boys and ineligible female skaters who can do triple axel combinations and quads?
Ben Tyler: My acquaintances who have performed in ice shows are all terrific. Without exception, they joined Disney On Ice or one of the other shows simply because they wanted to travel and skate. So I wanted my chorus to be excellent skaters, but without the extra drive that would have made them push themselves to achieve more in their sport.
Rainbow Ice: How did you decide exactly how much technical skating detail to include or exclude from this novel? Did that matter to you? I noticed that your skaters do waltz jumps, walleys, axels, salchows, toe loops, and lutzes, not to mention lutz variations (split Russian lutz! Reverse double lutz!), but no flips or loops. Also, there is some point in the beginning when someone does a triple toe loop-double salchow combination -- tsk tsk! Please tell me the jumps are switched or mention of the half-loop was accidentally omitted, or the fans will complain! ;-) And how did Tag do all those triples during their first meeting wearing ancient hockey skates???
Ben Tyler: You caught my Tag wearing hockey skates boo-boo! I'm so ashamed!
As for how much technical skating to include, my editor and I discussed this at length. It was decided for me that there should be minimal use of any element that isn't common knowledge among non-skaters. Although I included many other skating maneuvers in the original manuscript, they were excised. That was also the reason some of the skating elements may have ended up as inaccurate, to which I can only humbly apologize to readers who know their stuff.
Rainbow Ice: Boy, you sure mention Paul Wylie a lot. Is he your hottest skater?
Ben Tyler: Paul Wylie, be still my heart!!!
Rainbow Ice: You mention Michael Weiss a number of times, too. The book seems rather conflicted about him. What's your personal take on him?
Ben Tyler: Ah, Michael Weiss. I don't know any skater who doesn't adore Michael, either from a physical or artistic point of view, hence his appearance in the book. I just know that he's brilliant.
Rainbow Ice: You mention Orser, Galindo, Hamilton, Yamaguchi...sure. But...Stefan Lindemann? What brought that on?
Ben Tyler: Stefan Lindemann? Ha! I completely forgot that I even referenced him in the novel. I can't say why I even used his name.
Rainbow Ice: So it's not that you have a sweet tooth for him? ;-) Are any of your characters based in part on real skaters? Specifically, is it possible for a novelist to name a gorgeous skater, who appeals sexually to both female and male fans, "Kurt" without it being a tribute to Mr. Browning?
Ben Tyler: I get that question a lot and my stock (facetious) answer is: "Only the gay ones." But seriously, I based Jay and Garry simply on my own fantasy lovers. They are two talented and very decent guys, and they deserved so much better than being subjected to skating in GOLD ON ICE. I liked these guys a lot. Amber, too. I may have thrown a little Janet Lynn in there, because I have memory of how poised and absolutely sweet she appeared to be. I fell in love with Janet Lynn when I was a kid.
Rainbow Ice: Which leads me to another question: what was behind your decision to make Amber basically asexual? I actually found her the most complex character. My theory was that this book is a fantasy for gay men and you wanted her in the book as a character, but didn't want anything to interfere with the male-sexuality fantasy.
Ben Tyler: Yeah, it's only at the very end of the story that she has a boyfriend. I conceived her as someone who had one great passion to which she devoted her life, and that was skating. I envisioned her as a very self-assured woman who didn't need the validation of having a heterosexual man in her life. Her friends, Jay and Garry, and the kids in the show to whom she is a revered figure, fulfill her in a way that she thinks is more important than physical love. However, as the story progresses, and she sees the interaction between Garry and Kurt, she realizes that perhaps it's time to investigate the possibility of romance.
As for the Kurt in GAY BLADES, I wasn't consciously thinking of the fabulous Kurt Browning. Names can be a problem for me. For instance, when I wrote TRICKS OF THE TRADE, I named one of my characters Rod Dominguez. Well, I work very closely with a guy named RON Dominguez, and didn't link the two until after publication. Same thing with a character I named Jim Fallon. OH, MY, GOD! After publication I discovered there's a popular Saturday Night Live comedian named JIMMY Fallon! These things happen.
Rainbow Ice: What are some of the sexiest real-life programs you've ever seen?
Ben Tyler: I presume you mean "on ice." Well, call me a fairy, but I've actually wept at Paul Wylie's performance to "Les Miz." That, to me, is SEXY! Of course, there's the obvious, Philippe Candeloro. But I've gotta say, he doesn't do it for me. Give me Paul, the Brians, and Peggy. All very sexy.
Rainbow Ice: Do you think figure skaters are a common sexual fantasy for many gay men?
Ben Tyler: Yes, I do think that figure skaters are a common sexual fantasy for gay men. Skaters embody athleticism with grace, and there is something so utterly seductive about the authority they exude. It's hard for me to imagine anyone (gay or straight) who isn't awed by their mastery of the sport. Even if one has no concept of the dedication and discipline required to achieve any level of accomplishment in skating, I think most people inherently know that elite skaters are to be revered.
Rainbow Ice: Page 177 mentions that most gay skaters are bottoms. On what do you base that?
Ben Tyler: As a writer of (mostly) fiction, it's impossible for me to footnote every statement. So often, it's merely a character's voice that comes through during the writing process. However, I believe that in this instance, I was echoing a comment that I overheard at the rink one day. One of the regulars during my public sessions is a guy who is constantly trolling for someone who requires his "attention." He's really a great guy, and a very talented skater. But I think one of the reasons that he skates is to pick up guys.
Rainbow Ice: I was just curious because I have never met or even heard of a gay skater who was a top!
Ben Tyler: Ha! Same here!
Rainbow Ice: Would you characterize GAY BLADES as pornographic?
Ben Tyler: I hope that GAY BLADES isn't considered pornography! Admittedly, there are lascivious aspects to the story, but by and large, it's just a "summer beach novel" primarily written for gay readers. The intimate encounters described in the book are really no more graphic that what Jackie Collins provides heterosexual women in her books. I guess it's all a matter of what one considers pornography. I think Jerry Falwell would LOVE it! Ha!
Rainbow Ice: Who or what were the inspirations for the three A.S.S. (American Skating Society) officials at the beginning of the novel? Anybody in particular? Have you had any interactions with USFSA officials?
Ben Tyler: I can't say that there are any real life inspirations for the three A.S.S. officials at the beginning of the novel. I simply imagined poor Garry being summoned "to the office" for a reprimand. Perhaps in my subconscious mind I've buried an experience or two from a time when I may have been punished for one school infraction or another. But I thought these old guards at A.S.S. would definitely be intolerant. I have had interaction with a few USFSA people, all of whom were wonderful to me. A few years ago, I was researching a book chronicling the fate of the 1961 World team. I visited the museum and archives in Colorado Springs and found them all quite helpful.
Rainbow Ice: On what did you base your descriptions of "Dysfunction Junction"?
Ben Tyler: Ha! That was merely every backstage of every theater I've ever been to. Most of my friends are performers and I've heard their stories about the fans who wait for them after a performance. Again, no specific theater, just a conflation of many stories.
Rainbow Ice: Sex between a student and a coach, resulting in more coaching attention and reduced fees, is portrayed as a given, a norm, and even a positive thing if the coach is attractive. What made you decide to portray it this way? Have you spoken to people who believe it is common and normal within skating? Are you aware that there have been high-profile cases in recent years in which such sexual contact has been defined as abuse; that some coaches have been expelled from the USFSA and the PSA for this; and that the USFSA has developed much stronger policies cracking down on student-coach sexual contact in the past three years, regardless of gender or the age of the student?
Ben Tyler: I debated whether or not to write about that. I decided to keep it because number one, it's titillating, and number two, I know a couple of guys who have actually been intimate with their coaches. In GAY BLADES, the student/coach relationship was completely consensual, so I didn't fear any repercussions about "abuse." It was a means to an end, so to speak. I really wasn't commenting one way or another on any of the scandals that have erupted over the past few years.
Rainbow Ice: Okay, but the one element I have to ask about once again is that by having Garry say that all boy skaters sleep with their coaches, it sounds like you're telling audiences that this is the norm in the skating world. From what you've seen and heard, how common do you think it is?
Ben Tyler: Of course, it's not the norm ... far from it. But Garry was caught off guard by the accusations directed at him. He was shooting from the hip, so to speak, and trying to defend himself. He lives in a rather limited universe of doing little more than skating. He thinks that his personal experience with his coach is not uncommon.
Rainbow Ice: Where did you get the idea for the Olympic ring tattoo on Coach Larson's arm?
Ben Tyler: When I was developing that character, it was intended that he was so focused on eventually making the U.S. team, that he wanted a physical daily reminder of his goal. Then, when he failed to qualify, he had to live with that same reminder. Alas, in the rewriting stage of the novel, the character was reduced to practically nothing. Drats. Perhaps in the motion picture adaptation, I can include more about him. Ha!
Rainbow Ice: In your opinion, is appearance in porn movies considered a skeleton in the closet within the gay community? Would the movies have been a problem for Tag, do you think, if they had been just regular porn acting and he hadn't tricked some Marines and ruined their military careers?
Ben Tyler: As for appearing in porn being a skeleton in the closet, oh yeah! Big time. Just this past Saturday I interviewed a rather well known porn star for my next novel. He was very uncomfortable talking to me. As was a sailor whom I interviewed for the new book. He was horribly ashamed of what he does.
Rainbow Ice: It's interesting that you include Tonya and Nancy in your acknowledgements. Do you feel that they are part of your novel, somehow? If so, in what way? Do you feel that gay men (generalizing) identify in some way with the Tonya/Nancy conflict, or find that their enjoyment of skating is enhanced by that whole scandal in any way?
Ben Tyler: The acknowledgments of Nancy and Tonya in the book was just for amusement. I actually think they did a great service to the sport. That horrible episode brought a lot of attention to figure skating. I hope that people (gay or straight) don't identify in any way with the Tonya/Nancy conflict. And I can't fathom how such an ugly episode could enhance anyone's enjoyment of skating. But many people will always be interested in scandals, especially with regard to celebrities.
Rainbow Ice: When you envisioned the audience for this book, did you think primarily of the gay male market that bought your previous books, or did you also think of skating fans who aren't gay men?
Ben Tyler: As for the audience for GAY BLADES, yes, it's primarily for the gay male market. Kensington, my publisher, is the largest independent publisher in the country and they have a thriving gay fiction department. Although I didn't start out to be "The bad boy of gay fiction" (as Ben Tyler is known), it just sort of happened. My editor asked if I'd write a novel targeted toward his niche market. I said sure. The rest is history. But I hope skating fans who aren't gay may also like the novel. If they can skip over the rather in-your-face sex acts, they might have fun. Hmmm. I can dream, can't I?