Monday, May 13

I write gay romance

Which is probably not a shock to anyone who comes here regularly!   :)
So what's with the declaration of the obvious, you might wonder. Over the weekend I went camping with some friends; it was a big group kind of thing. I knew the people I went with, but the others were totally new to me, so I did a lot of introducing of myself and it's fairly normal for people to ask what you do for a living.
I write gay romance.
A few eyebrows went up, but overall I was in a pretty liberal group so it wasn't much of a big deal, but that got me thinking (always dangerous!)
Often when I'm asked what I do, I simply say "I write" or "I write romance". To be honest, the reason is twofold. The obvious part is that there are discussions I don't necessarily want to get into with the more closed minded conservative types. The other part is "why make differentiate?" Isn't it ALL romance?
Well. Yes.
And no.
Because I don't write het. romance. I don't typically even read het. romance. It just doesn't interest me, even when it's really well written. Kind of the same way that while I respect the authors who do it well, the horror genre doesn't typically interest me (although there are a few exceptions). Hard science fiction doesn't interest me. Contemporary urban fantasy has lost its appeal over the years. I'm sure you have your own list of things you love to read and stuff you just kind of go "meh" to because it isn't your thing. And that's awesome! If we all liked the same stuff it would be a dead dull world.
 
But... coming back around to "I write gay romance" this weekend got me thinking. Is it better to say simply that I write romance (because I do, gosh darn it and I want all romance to be created--or at least received--equally) or is it better to call attention to the fact that I write in this specific sub-genre where boy meets boy?
 
By calling attention to it, am I saying m/m romance isn't the same as het. romance? I'm sure Nora Roberts doesn't say "Hi, I write heterosexual romances". She most likely says "I'm a romance novelist". Why should I be any different? Romance is romance, right? Or am I being oversensitive because I grew up on PSAs like this one?
 
 
 
Or, conversely, should I call attention to the fact that romance novels comes in every shape and size and color and gender (just like real people)? More than once when the subject of exactly what kind of romance I write has come up, the person I was talking to was totally amazed that such a thing as gay romance even exists. Do people actually read that? Why yes, we do. My husband will be the first person to tell you just how much of it I read because he sees my Amazon bill every month! 
 
Calling attention to the genre means the risk of uncomfortable conversations and certainly there's a time to pick and choose when to have those, but this weekend got me wondering whether I was doing my genre (and therefore myself) a disservice by quietly saying "I write romance". If what I want is to be able to walk into a bookstore someday and see my books on the shelves, then more people need to know we exist.
 
I'm curious what y'all think; please leave a comment below.
 
 

SUBSCRIBE
to my newsletter for
announcements,
contests,
and freebies! 


 
 



 



11 comments:

Tali said...

Gosh Helen, I go round and round on this one. Philosophically, I believe gay romance is a sub-genre of romance in the same way sword and sorcery is a sub-genre of fantasy or space opera is a sub-genre of science ficiton--both of which I also write. The definition of romance is that the story is all about the love relationship between the protagonists. So that's where I stand on genre. I write romance (or fantasy, or science fiction).

That said, the sub-genre is an important marketing distinction. :) It tells readers exactly what kind of romance, or fantasy, or whatever, my books are. Readers have definite interests, as you've noted yourself when you say you don't read het romance. I do. And my mom doesn't want to read about two men, ever. So the "gay" in gay romance is important. But I still hold that I write romance, it's just that it's sometimes about gay guys.

Simply speaking as an old hack, I think there's a tendency--a fondness, even--for writers and readers alike to create communities based on narrow definitions. They embrace these communities because they feel inclusive and special, and so they also embrace the definitions that provide access. It's all good. It's just that by doing so they are unwittingly (or maybe wittingly, in some cases) contributing to the perception that their sub-genre ISN'T part of the larger genre. That the het romance IS the definition of romance in the same way het couples are the definition of couples, or het marriage the definition of marriage. I know it's simplistic but it's a subtle nod to the "norm" and I'd rather not do it. I write romance. I right fantasy. I write science fiction. Sometimes the characters are straight. Sometimes the charactes are gay.

Wow... this is too long.

H.B. Pattskyn said...

No such thing as too long, Tali!

All those wonderful points you bring up are why I'm on the fence. I don't want to contribute to any of that, and yet I've gotten into some great conversations about "gosh, yes there IS such a thing as romance books that are boy meets boy."

Maybe I need to come up with some way of saying "I write romance and it happens to be about men". ;-)

A.J. Thomas said...

You're braver than I am. For a long time, I didn't even admit to writing at all, writing m/m in the closet, so to speak. Now, particularly if I'm in conservative company, I find myself including degrading modifiers like "I write cheesy/sappy/house-wifey romance" and hope that the modifier ends the inevitable questions that follow. I HATE that I do it, but it's hard not to. I keep telling myself I'm going to own up to it someday. Maybe it does feed into the whole "not all romance is created equal" line of thinking by drawing attention to the distinction, but I WANT to announce it, to draw attention to it, probably because I resent being too afraid to do it in real life. Maybe someday:)

Tali Spencer said...

What A.J said brings up a really good point which I didn't even touch on, which is the social context in which the question comes up. What I will say to other writers, speaking as a writer in general, or in a setting that consists of readers of the genre/sub-genre is REALLY different from what I might say to my hairdresser, or at a party with my husband's coworkers. What do I say then? "Romance." I smile. If they ask what kind, I say the truth. "Fantasy and science fiction-y stuff." That usually kills the topic, though I'm still considered exotic and writerly and all that. I also mention they're "racy." If people still ask for my books, I point them to my het romances. Why? Because like A.J. I don't want to call down unwanted repercussions on other people, namely my husband and his family, who live in our community. That whole aspect is symptomatic of the surrounding culture. It's getting better, but it's not there yet and self-defense is a perfectly valid reason for tip-toeing around the specific sub-genre. And I speak as a woman for whom the nature of her fiction got her vilified in court during her divorce. Every person has to do what's best for their situation.

Jaime Samms said...

Usually, when people ask, I do say "I write romance." People are generally surprised, and sometimes ask for more details. One lady at work the other day asked "As in boy meets girl?" and I said yeah. Well, except without the girls. She looked a little bit blank for a moment before realization dawned and she grinned and blushed a bit. I handed her a business card and told her to let me know what she thought.

Everybody has made good points about both sides, and i think they're all valid points. There is o easier way to categorize what we write than there is a way to categorize who we are. Am I mother? Wife? Daughter? Sister? Worker bee? Artist? Writer? Well, Yes. So what do i tell people when they ask? depends if I'm in the dance studio with other moms, at work, at an art exhibit or a writer's convention.

Am I talking to a sci-fi enthusiast? I point them to my one sci-fi title. Are they into BDSM? I point them to Rainbow Alley. Do they like urban fantasy? They should read the Ageless Series. Paranormal? Read the Wings of Faith books. Contemporary? Everything else. I even have some literary stuff. About the only thing I don't have is het. But you know, no one ever asks me to point them in the direction of a good het romance. because the average person assumes romance is about a man and a woman. so...where was I going with that? I think that if i want my kids to drop assumptions, it's my duty to not perpetuate them, which to me means not assigning gender to the idea of romance, only to the individual couples. If that makes any sense.

Jake Wells said...

I’m not exactly sure what the ultimate solution is but I’m ecstatic that we’re having this dialog. I look forward to the day when no one even considers censoring themselves. “I write romance…. I write gay romance.” To be able to go with whichever answer comes flying out of your mouth without having to give the slightest consideration to how your response might be interpreted by your audience because we can assume that their first inclination is simply to embrace the idea of love. Imagine that the emotion takes immeasurable precedent over the participants!
I found myself in a similar discussion when Jason Collin’s coming out article appeared in Sports Illustrated. I was disheartened when so many respondents volunteered that they were sick of having to read that a public figure had made the decision to announce their sexual orientation. They vehemently voiced their objections with a loud declaration saying, “You don’t see straights having to declare to the world who they love.”
Isn’t that the point? That we most certainly do. That we’re made witness to it million times an hour. That, when without hesitation, a man throws his arm around a woman in public and kisses her, he’s announcing to the world which gender he’s attracted to. And he can do so without fear of either retribution or discrimination. He can display his girlfriend’s picture on his desk at work, he can invite her to the prom, and he can propose marriage with a message in sky writing without a moment’s hesitation that these actions might ultimately be used as weapons against him. That someone will write faggot on his locker or car, that he’ll be passed over for a promotion or that he’ll lose his job. He won’t have to worry that he’ll be denied the opportunity to visit his significant other in the hospital or most tragically, won’t be concerned that people finding out he’s gay might lead him to be left to die on a barbwire fence in Laramie Wyoming.
As I said, I’m delighted we’re having this discussion. Gay romance, gay individuals, unconditional acceptance. It’s people’s wiliness to unapologetically make as stand that love is love that we’ll not only see a change, but live a change.

Jake Wells said...

I’m not exactly sure what the ultimate solution is but I’m ecstatic that we’re having this dialog. I look forward to the day when no one even considers censoring themselves. “I write romance…. I write gay romance.” To be able to go with whichever answer comes flying out of your mouth without having to give the slightest consideration to how your response might be interpreted by your audience because we can assume that their first inclination is simply to embrace the idea of love. Imagine that the emotion takes immeasurable precedent over the participants!
I found myself in a similar discussion when Jason Collin’s coming out article appeared in Sports Illustrated. I was disheartened when so many respondents volunteered that they were sick of having to read that a public figure had made the decision to announce their sexual orientation. They vehemently voiced their objections with a loud declaration saying, “You don’t see straights having to declare to the world who they love.”
Isn’t that the point? That we most certainly do. That we’re made witness to it million times an hour. That, when without hesitation, a man throws his arm around a woman in public and kisses her, he’s announcing to the world which gender he’s attracted to. And he can do so without fear of either retribution or discrimination. He can display his girlfriend’s picture on his desk at work, he can invite her to the prom, and he can propose marriage with a message in sky writing without a moment’s hesitation that these actions might ultimately be used as weapons against him. That someone will write faggot on his locker or car, that he’ll be passed over for a promotion or that he’ll lose his job. He won’t have to worry that he’ll be denied the opportunity to visit his significant other in the hospital or most tragically, won’t be concerned that people finding out he’s gay might lead him to be left to die on a barbwire fence in Laramie Wyoming.
As I said, I’m delighted we’re having this discussion. Gay romance, gay individuals, unconditional acceptance. It’s people’s wiliness to unapologetically make as stand that love is love that we’ll not only see a change, but live a change.

H.B. Pattskyn said...

Jake: maybe that's why, right now at least, I'm starting to be more inclined to say "I write gay romance" Although I do have to admit that it was pretty easy to do in the company I was in over the weekend. I knew the group as a whole was likely to be recptive. The one lengthy converstaion I got into with one guy started out with a raised eyebrown and then a shrug and a talk about writing in general, which was totally awesome and exactly the way it *should* be.

Then after "I write romance" can come conversation about whehter it's paranormal, historical, boy meets boy, boy meets girl, couple meets boy/girl or whatever. :)

I totally agree that grown adults should be free--and FEEL free--to love another grown adult regardless of...well, anything. We should all be free to walk down the stree hand in hand with our significant other without fear of other people's ignorance.

Jaime Samms said...

Helen and Jake, I was wondering...Do either of you mind if I a) link back to this post (Helen) and b) sort of lift great swaths of your reply (Jake) with credit, of course, to share on my blog and "Safe Reading Zone" portion of my website?

Jaime www.jaime-samms.com

H.B. Pattskyn said...

For my part, yes, of course you can link back :)

~Helen

Jake Wells said...

I'm flattered that you think anything I said my be "repeat worthy" Link away!
Thanks, Jake