Josh Lanyon has a post up at Jessewave on the mainstreaming of m/m. I started to comment there but then realized I was being crazy long-winded, so I decided to start a new post.
My take is this: 2013 promises to be a banner year for LGBT romance, and the book everyone is talking about is J.R. Ward’s Lover at Last. Here are some thoughts:
Confessions of a Shameless Romance Reader
If you’ve been reading my Friday wrap-up posts, you know I read the entire Black Dagger Brotherhood series last fall. It has some flaws and Ward has some writing tics I wish an editor would disabuse her of, but generally, I find the series engrossing and entertaining and there’s been so much build up in the Qhuinn/Blay relationship that I cannot wait to get my grubby paws on Lover at Last. (Confession: though the series has been on my radar for a long time because so many people whose tastes I usually agree with really love it, my real incentive for finally reading it was the Qhuay book announcement. And I’m enough of a series completist that if there was going to be a huge m/m release late in a series, I better read the whole series.)
In addition to Ward, Lanyon name checks Suzanne Brockmann. Now, I’m a huge fan of Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series. The Jules/Robin arc was one of the first (if not the first) m/m plot I ever encountered. That was part of what inspired me to start writing m/m in fact; I loved it so much that I wanted to see more books like those.
It’s All About the SeriesBrockmann hasn’t been reviewed that well on m/m blogs and I wonder if that’s due in part to reviewers reading the Jules/Robin arc in isolation. I know there are a significant number of m/m readers who will not read m/f and so might not have been as interested in the rest of the series, but to me, the moment when Jules and Robin finally get together is many books in the making. Jules first showed up in, I think, the second book, and his friendship with Sam is one of my favorite recurring elements in the series; that’s something you kind of miss out on if you only read All Through The Night, for example. (I will confess to be an unabashed Brockmann fan. I love the Troubleshooters series. I’m kind of sad it’s pretty much over.)
I think Lover At Last could have the same problem for readers who have been m/m-only for a while. The book falls so late in the series that if this is the only book you read, I can’t imagine it would have the same pay-off as it would have if you’d experienced all of the Qhuay-related angst that preceded it.
The one thing these authors, and Lori Foster who Lanyon also mentions, have in common is that they introduced m/m storylines to existing series. I wonder if that makes the stories more palatable to those who wouldn’t pick up a m/m book otherwise? Readers are already hooked. I don’t know how the new Ward book will play out, but the Brockmann books interlace the Jules/Robin storyline with those of other characters, so there are other series arcs going on at the same time. If a reader weren’t invested in Jules/Robin, s/he might keep reading to find out about Max or Decker or Cosmo or whoever. (And sometimes, the books are what fans are asking for. Apparently Foster’s fans wanted an HEA for a character. I suspect some of the clamoring for Qhuay comes from ward denying us Butch/Vishous (EVEN THOUGH THEY TOTALLY BELONG TOGETHER, but whatever). And the publisher was originally going to relegate Qhuay to a novella, but Ward/fans insisted otherwise.)
I’m pretty certain that Lover at Last will sell gazillions of copies, but would a standalone m/m book be as successful?
Briefly, I just want to touch on sex. When I met her last year, Brockmann said she wanted to include more explicit m/m scenes in the Troubleshooters books but was stymied by her publisher. (There are more explicit scenes in her more recent stuff: the m/m shorts and with the m/m couple in Born to Darkness.) Ward has said there will be a long Qhuay scene, though. I personally don’t care if sex is included or not—I like sex scenes, but I skim them a lot, too. I think authors should do whatever seems appropriate for their stories. But what IS irksome is when m/f pairings get on-the-page love scenes but the m/m pairing in the same book/series get faded to black. I think Lanyon is right in his post; if a writer is uncomfortable or just in it for the money, it’ll show in the writing.
I think two things will happen by the end of 2013. We’ll see a few mainstream romance authors write m/m (or other LGBT romance) and we’ll see a few established m/m (or other LGBT) writers get picked up by “mainstream” publishers. (Examples: Katie Porter is the writing team of Lorelie Brown and Carrie Lofty, both established m/f writers. They wrote a couple of m/m holiday stories that were well-received. ZA Maxfield has a book deal with Berkley.)
There’s already momentum building for m/m. Rainbow Romance Writers did a survey last year, and one of the takeaways was that a significant number of readers discovered m/m via a mainstream writer like Brockmann or Ward. It’s the most popular genre at All Romance eBooks. LGBT romance has been reviewed in RT since last summer. It’s been a hot topic of conversation at every romance convention I’ve been to in the last year. That will continue and Lover at Last will certainly keep the conversation going.
This is good news. I believe LGBT romance deserves to reach a wider audience. Certainly, the LGBT romance world has writers who deserve wider recognition and more accolades, who should be on the same shelves as the best m/f romance writers.
As the future president of the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter of RWA, helping to usher LGBT romance (the whole rainbow, not just m/m) is a big part of my agenda. As writers, we want to be respected and taken seriously.
But the bad news? Could m/m be the new Twilight knock off? Will the market be flooded by fly-by-night authors and publishers looking to capitalize on a trend and make money without necessarily putting out a quality product? Will there be a glut of terrible books? How can we ensure that the good books in an already flooded market get recognition?
Probably all these things will happen.
The Big Question
Personally, I’m a reader of all kinds of romances, and I’ve been spending more time in outside of m/m-exclusive spaces. Part of this is due in part to my involvement with RWA and going to romance-related events and conventions that are open to everyone. I’ve been greeted with nothing but enthusiasm for the last few months. It’s been really great!
But I always, always get asked, “Why m/m?”
And I get that. I understand why people are curious. But it gets harder to answer that question every time I’m asked it.
I’m not sure why. It’s a lot of reasons. It’s no specific reason. I love romance as a genre and have been reading and writing it for years. The why is easy. Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved love stories. I like reading about relationships. I like the reassurance most romances provide that things will end well. Why gay romance? That’s harder to answer. Part of it was that I read a few gay romances that I really loved back when the books were few and far between, and I wanted more so I wrote one for myself. I wasn’t really expecting all of my subsequent stories to also feature gay characters. That’s just sort of where my muse has pointed me, though. (I’ve always kept my bio a little vague. I’m not an m/m romance writer, I’m a romance writer period. All of my published books just happen to me m/m. I’ve written other kinds of pairings but haven’t tried to get any of those books published; maybe I will or maybe I’ll stick to m/m. I’m not sure what will happen. I like to have options.)
This may seem neither here nor there, but I think we’re going to start seeing this question a lot more. Why do you read that? Why do you write it?
I’m scheduled to attend RT and RWA Nationals this year, and I’m expecting all of this to be much discussed. I’m not really sure what the future holds, but I look forward to it!