Song of the Loon by Richard Amory
So, I was on my morning bike ride (cardio, don't you know) and this random thought entered my head, which happens a lot. It's how I get a lot of my ideas. Only this random thought was a memory of a book I'd read a few years ago, one that was rather influential for me in my writing, but which I haven't talked about. The book in question is Song of the Loon by Richard Amory. It was originally published way back in 1966, when I was just a lad of eight, but I didn't find and read the book until three or four years ago.
If you haven't read it or heard about it, here's the current blurb for the reissued edition:
“More completely than any author before him, Richard Amory explores the tormented world of love for man by man . . . a happy amalgam of James Fenimore Cooper, Jean Genet and Hudsonâ€™s Green Mansions.”â€”from the cover copy of the 1969 edition
Published well ahead of its time, in 1966 by Greenleaf Classics, Song of the Loon is a romantic novel that tells the story of Ephraim MacIver and his travels through the wilderness. Along his journey, he meets a number of characters who share with him stories, wisdom and homosexual encounters. The most popular erotic gay book of the 1960s and 1970s, Song of the Loon was the inspiration for two sequels, a 1970 film of the same name, at least one porn movie and a parody novel called Fruit of the Loon. Unique among pulp novels of the time, the gay characters in Song of the Loon are strong and romantically drawn, which has earned the book a place in the canon of gay American literature.
The Speak Its Name site has a good review of the book, which points out its many faults - historical inaccuracies and all - but still gives it five stars. It's that kind of book.
The reason why Song of the Loon was significant for me, and worth talking about here, is that when I read it I was already a good way into writing my first book, Journey to Angkor, but I was stuck. I had the main character Piero traveling through Siam and Indochina, and I wanted him to have sexual encounters, but I didn't want him coming off like some nineteenth century sex tourist.
Song of the Loon in effect provided the answer. In it, as mentioned in the blurb, the main character Ephraim has a number of encounters, but they are all part of a journey of self-discovery. One of the other characters, a native who acts as something of a mentor and guide, even tells him that he needs these different relationships to grow and learn.
It's a message that I took to heart and it allowed me to go back to work on Journey to Angkor with a new angle on Piero's journey. Of course, as things worked out, I was a little worried for nothing. Piero and Plai attached themselves to each other much more firmly than I expected. In the end it was the boyish but not naive Plai who became Piero's teacher, of sorts. That has happened to me several times in my books - the characters take over their story and it goes in a completely different direction than I planned. This was especially true of the second Journeys book, Journey to Rai-Lay, which was originally titled “Journey to Rangoon“. Rai-Lay was supposed to be just a temporary stop on Henry's journey, but he got so tied up with Kung I couldn't figure out how to get him away.
Song of the Loon is available in print or Kindle editions from Amazon.