I should also throw in soldiers, athletes and construction workers too. If in a thousand years people (for some unfathomable reason) try to piece together our culture just from m/m romance novels, they’d probably assume that half the members of all these professions were gay, and that half the population held one of these jobs.
This is not by any means a complaint since I’m also drawn to those books like a hormonal moth to a testosterone-burning flame. But it has made me think about why we love to read and write about these particular men so much.
In some ways, I think this reflects the disparate societal progress in acceptance of gay men. When writing contemporary male/male novels some professions get an automatic narrative tension boost because we intuitively know that it is harder and more dangerous to be a gay man in those bastions of masculinity.
Harder and yet somehow more compelling as well. In these arenas with a much smaller percentage of women it seems somehow natural for us to imagine these men taking solace and comfort from one another. And if those relationships are more risky and dangerous then that just makes the triumph of true love that much sweeter.
Or maybe I’m overthinking things and these guys are just naturally hot. 😉
What about you? Do you have any professions or types of men you particularly love reading about?
… in a more figurative way this time.
I can’t express how thrilled I am at today’s US Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality.
I look forward to the day when the contemporary gay romances I’m now reading are firmly in the historical category, not because of clothes, technology or settings, but because the kind of bigotry and obstacles often faced and portrayed seem so outdated and unthinkable. That day is coming and today was one giant step in that direction.
And in celebration of the day, here are some reviews for some relevant warm and fuzzy reading:
I Do Anthology
Marriage by Cardeno C
I just finished a scene in my work in progress in which one of the characters has promised he can design a scene with any three innocuous-seeming items the other picks out from a gadgety store. It was a lot of fun to write and it reminded me how much I enjoy improvised sex toys.
Don’t get me wrong–I love leather and chains and various customized instruments of erotic delight as much as the next gal, presuming the next gal also needs a step-ladder for her mind to get high enough to see the gutter. And yet, there’s also something delicious about perverting the uses of innocent every-day items, using them to create unique experiences and salacious associations.
So, I figured I’d share my top reasons for creating sex toys out of everyday objects.
- Exercise your Creativity. I love the challenge of coming up with something new and interesting. I remember having conversations with my boyfriend at 16 and we’d take turns saying an item and the other would have to come up with a way to relate it to sex. I’ve been thinking this way for a long time.
- Create New Associations. This is possibly my favorite benefit. Whatever items you choose will forever remind you both of the scene and create a fun shared association that you can allude to in other settings. Even though the relationship went badly, I still smile whenever I see certain items.
- Surprise. If you pull out a flogger, it’s relatively obvious what’s going to happen next. If you pull out a sharpie, some rubber bands and a refrigerator magnet, the intent will be less clear.
- Discretion. You don’t have to worry about people stumbling across your sexy stash if its composed of normal household goods, though they might wonder why you’re keeping certain things in the bedroom.
- Cost. Custom sex toys are often a lot more expensive than other items you can find.
So does anyone have any favorite pervertables? Or if you have a list of 3 items that you think can’t be perverted, put them in the comments and if they inspire me I’ll try to design a scene with them and post it here.
When I first started devouring m/m romances, I was perplexed by the sheer number of stories involving other-worldy creatures. I did a lot of shopping at Bookstrand and it seemed every other book in my search results had some fantasy element. And that’s where I drew the line. Humans only. Not that I had anything against the other books being out there, I just wasn’t interested.
And yet, so many of the descriptions were intriguing and hit all my other buttons. But I was steadfast. For about 8 months. It was getting harder to find books I really wanted to read and I hadn’t yet discovered Goodreads with their tons of recommendations. So I gave in. Just one, I thought, to see what it’s like and why there are so many of them.
I picked up the first in Lynn Hagan’s Brac Pack series. And I think I lost some sanity points and about a month of my time by the time I looked around and found that I’d consumed 52 of that and the related series. (Yes I did go to work and do things that had to be done, but pretty much read every spare second, and many that should have been otherwise spent.) The reason I know the number is because I created a spreadsheet to keep track of the characters and their books, so I could look back if I needed to. For proof of my insanity, you can see the spreadsheet.
Now you might expect me to gush about how wonderful these books were and how everyone should read them, but I won’t. These weren’t amazing works of literature that touched me deeply or anything, but I found them somehow addictive. Like junk food or popcorn without the calories. You know there are better choices out there, but they are easy and comfortable and you know what to expect. Yes, they’re formulaic and not likely to cause any major surprises, but sometimes that’s what you want, or at least that’s sometimes what I want- fun crazy stuff, decent dialogue and a guaranteed happy ending.
I’ve read other popcorn series since then and not all of them involve supernatural elements, but for some reason a lot of them do. I’ve thought about why and I think there are some good reasons for that.
- It’s easier to have a bunch of related romances if you have a well-defined set of characters who all need to get matched up with someone, and having defined groups of clustered supernaturals fits this need nicely.
- You need ready sources of external conflict to keep the interest going over a long series. Conflicts between human groups can make the book heavier than one really wants in this type of read. The supernatural elements remove everything a step to keep the angst removed from more real-world concerns.
- Similarly, you can deal with weighty issues like discrimination and prejudice without adding the extra baggage that comes with very real human experiences with that. (i.e. most people aren’t going to complain to you that you’re portrayals of werewolves are racist or demeaning.)
- A lot of these stories have a concept of a mate- a person or persons you are destined to be with. It’s a compelling concept for a romance novel and it’s interesting how different authors implement it.
While I still read mostly realistic contemporary, sometimes I find another series like this and devour them all until my vision starts to blur and I feel a little loopy. Then I go back to reading the literary equivalent of balanced meals until the mood strikes again.
I don’t have much interpersonal conflict in my life. I tend towards easy-going and diplomatic and try to spend most of my time with people who are the same. And so, when it comes to writing and developing these conflicts in fiction I find I’m struggling with it. I throw a conflict at the characters and then try to solve it for them in the mediation style I would use if I were trying to help them in real life, which makes good reality, but boring fiction.
So, I’ve been thinking about ways of broadening my character and conflict types and have found inspiration in some interesting places. These sources can also provide great inspiration for dealing with writer’s block.
1. Personality Type Assessments. The realm of popular psychology has more type assessments than you can shake a writer’s dream stick at. Whether you buy into any of them or not, they provide a rich source of common collection of characteristics which you can kidnap and make your own. Many people have written books and other interpretations of The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, making it one of my favorites. Please Understand Me 2 by David Kiersey has not only detailed descriptions of each type with strength and weaknesses, but also a section on relationships and the types of conflicts different pairings are susceptible to and ways to resolve them. Reading that chapter was almost dangerous since story ideas started attacking me as I read and I really need to finish one of the in progress works before starting something else.
2. Tarot Cards. I know this sounds strange, but stay with me. Each tarot card represents a character archetype and/or a universal theme of conflict or desire. As such, I find them great for brainstorming for fiction or real life. There are many free online places that you can get these readings. For example, I just went to Llewellyn Worldwide, chose a Celtic Cross pattern (because it provides a lot of variety) and skimmed through the results looking for combinations that seemed interesting to me for current or future projects. I like to read a card’s description and position and then think about whether or how it might be applicable and what implications it might have.
3. Zodiac and Chinese Year signs. You can easily find lists for both of these which will paint in broad strokes the characteristics for people born under these signs. I’m not suggesting you match your characters to these signs, just that it can help to have a basket of grouped strengths and weaknesses to start from to build your own unique character. It can also help identify when you the flip side of characteristics you may be painting as purely strengths.
So, what do you use for inspiration?
Have you ever had something that you’ve been meaning to do for a long time, but had never gotten around to until you got that last little push? For some reason when this happens to me it often ends up triggering a minor obsession for a while. Enter Goodreads. This site really is just as awesome as everyone told me it was.
I had plans to write about finding the m/m romances you’re most likely to like. I’m sure that I will still use some of that content later, but some of it now seems superfluous now that I’ve really spent some time at Goodreads.
I’ve just spent 6 hours going through my list of books purchased from Amazon, Bookstrand and Allromance ebooks, adding most of the books to my Goodreads account. I added 525 read books and more than 100 to my want to read pile, because what I needed most in my life was to increase my to-be-read pile. On the other hand, it is really cool going through its book recommendations, which I’m finding more pleasant to work with than the recommended books features at the places I usually buy books.
Now that I’ve gone through the tedious up-front work, I’m going to try to keep my list up-to-date. I Promise I’ll write about sex next time once I’ve recovered from the information overload.
As a bisexual female, I have to laugh at myself sometimes that I spend so much time reading about sex between men. At first I thought novelty explained it, but I’ve come to believe that the power of gay sex extends further than that. Gay male sex provides more opportunities for narrative milestones. Generally, in heterosexual non-kinky romances intercourse commands center stage and most of the other stages as far as the physical relationship goes. The characters may certainly have variety in their sexy times, but for the most part this variety does not represent separate steps in the relationships.
So, what sexual milestones and extras do m/m romance authors have in their writing toolboxes?
- Kissing: Yes, yes I know all romance novels have kissing. However, in gay romances the characters sometimes have issues with kissing and so it can come later in the courtship, making it, to my mind, an interesting twist.
- Handjobs: Gay Sex 101 for those characters who may not yet have come to terms with the whole sex-with-another-guy experience. Also good for those in a hurry or in a public place.
- Frotting: Have a character not ready for any type of penetration yet but wants something a little more advanced than a handjob? Try experimenting with rubbing those cocks against each others’ bodies in a variety of ways. Also useful when unprepared with lube and condoms.
- Oral Sex- giving and receiving: Often a first step in the story for more experienced partners. In stories with men just figuring out their sexuality, this still can present progress in character and relationship development. Add in to swallow or not and you have even more possibilities.
- Anal Sex- giving and receiving: Some couples switch easily and without drama. For others, a change in the way they normally do things signals an important development in the relationship. (For a hysterical article on the realities of anal sex, check out Numb Shots)
- Giving up condoms: In contemporary fiction, set in the age of AIDS, condoms understandably abound. And so, going bareback shows that the relationship has moved to a higher level of trust and commitment. It also makes the scene extra-hot as far as I’m concerned.
- Shared bathrooms: Same sex partners can manage sex in a public bathroom much more easily. Contrasting my experiences with boyfriends and girlfriends, I can state this with a high degree of confidence.
- Rimming- giving and receiving: I confess that these last two don’t fit in the milestones category, but they provide great spice options anyway.
While readers would probably find it tedious if an author hit all of these in one book, the possibilities lead to a lot of potential variety across books and interesting conversations and struggles for the characters. It also makes it easier to write a lot of sex scenes with each of them moving the relationship/plot forward.
Opinions? Did I miss anything?
M/M romances provide a built-in set of potential interesting and compelling conflicts and drama. These certainly don’t all show up in every example in the genre and do show up outside of it, but gay romances are certainly fertile grounds for these conflicts (fertility of other types- not as common). So, on to my top 8 reasons I’m hooked on this genre:
- Coming Out Process: People often talk in the media about coming out as if it is a simple 1-step deal. In these books, though, you can see the complexity and diversity of the experience. Everyone experience this process differently and the fiction reflects this reality beautifully.
- Revealing Secrets: I love secrets in fiction. Watching the ways in which people keep and reveal these secrets, both ones that the reader does and doesn’t know, draws me into a story. M/M romances generally have a lot of this going on, often with unpredictable results about how the people learning the secrets will behave.
- Professional vs. Personal Desires: We often see a conflict between someone having a job they love, but feeling that they either couldn’t keep it or would be made miserable or unsafe if they came out. Any profession can have this risk, but stories involving with stereotypically masculine jobs – police, firefighters, soldiers, cowboys, construction, etc. – often make the choice feel more dangerous. Something about this conflict snares me every time.
- Family Dynamics: Gay novels have amazing potential for family freak-outs and angst. Yes, you can still have issues of class, race and age among other things and I realize for some people these are still very real, but for some reason they just don’t resonate with me as much. On the other side of that coin, I enjoy it just as much when someone expects rejection and finds acceptance instead.
- Social Context and History: This is an exciting time in the history of gay rights. The world is changing and changing rapidly. When I read contemporary gay fiction I sometimes think about how these things will feel in 20 years or 50. Will people read these books and think how strange that someone worried about telling his family or co-workers he was gay? I believe/hope this will be the case. At the same time, books set even 20 years ago feel completely different being out was a much scarier choice then. And so it feels exciting reading these books now. The range of likely reactions today to revelations of being gay is so broad that it provides a fascinating array of options for writers and thus readers.
- Explorations of Sexuality vs. Masculinity: I like watching the struggle as the protagonists and those around them deal with their preconceived notions of what it means to be a man and how being gay doesn’t change that.
- Introspection: I’m an introspective person and I like to analyze things. (This will not come as a surprise if you stick around long.) And I like reading about other people figuring things out about themselves. Most of the points above tend to lead to this kind of process.
- Sex: Yes- the sex is important. From a narrative perspective, I think that the descriptions of gay male sex are just more interesting, but that’s a post to itself. So, stay tuned for the next installment: Advantages of Gay Sex in Fiction.
I used to read mostly mystery and fantasy and I still do occasionally, but now my big addiction is male/male romances and it started in an odd way.
My mom convinced me to read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon and I fell in love with it quickly and devoured it and all of its related series in a few months. If you haven’t heard of them I highly recommend them no matter what genre you like. To avoid confusion, these are not romances- these are hard to define, but I’m going to go with historical/adventure/time-travel/mystery/romance/epic tales spanning lifetimes/character-driven masterpieces. They are unique and wonderful. And one of the main secondary characters who got his own set of smaller books is an 18th century gay male- Lord John. I quickly fell madly in love with him. And while he had relationships and dalliances, he has not, to date, gotten the sort of permanent connection I so want for him. I was getting a little obsessed with his romantic life- or lack thereof- and decided that what I really needed was to read stories with a gay male romantic lead who did get his HEA.
So I started looking and discovered that there were a LOT of these books out there. I had no idea. I was lucky and got some good recommendations for my first books (the first several I read were by Josephine Myles, who I adore) and I was hooked. I had never even read many straight romances before, so I tried a few of those, but found they strangely didn’t hold my interest the same way. I have more thoughts on the why of that for a later post. Several hundred books later, I’m still devouring this genre and have decided to write about some of my thoughts on it along the way.