Thoughts on Love, Sex, Kink, and Gay Romance Novels

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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)
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

 

Critique Group

After some people on the Goodreads m/m romance group expressed in a critique group focused on BDSM/kinky m/m books, I decided to start one. Goodreads has a great system for creating groups that can be made private, so I set up a group called M/M BDSM Authors Critique Group.

This is my first involvement with a critique group, so I’m pretty excited. Expect to hear more about this later, but I thought I’d share the information in case there are other budding authors in the genre who are interested in joining us.

 

Rough Draft- Now What?

I’m a couple big scenes away from finishing my first draft, and now my brain is whirring about trying to organize  things I need to do in the editing process. I’m calmer if I have a plan, so I’ve written out the next steps as I see them and thought I’d share in case they are helpful to anyone else. I’m hoping that some of these will become natural as I write more, but for now I feel like it’s helpful to me to be very explicit about everything- not just the sex 🙂

  • First Draft
  • Full read – Look for:
    • plot holes
    • inconsistencies
    • areas that need enhancement
    • secondary characters that need more or less time
    • identify themes
  • 2nd draft:
    • make changes identified in full read 1
    • update character list and general story notes as appropriate (I have a terrible memory for names and physical details, so I try to keep a list of these things in a separate document so I don’t accidentally change the color of someone’s eyes or their apartment number or something)
  • Create scene checklist and think about
    • level of tension and conflict- do they escalate appropriately?
    • does each scene drive story forward?
    • does each scene lead to more questions the reader will want answered?
    • is each scene intrinsically interesting and not just plot exposition?
    • does each scene have some elements of humor?
    • do the scenes support or undermine the theme
  • 3rd Draft: Fix any problems identified with scene checklist
  • 4th draft: Descriptions – This  revision set is based on a known personal weakness. I often feel barely cognizant of my real physical environment, and have been called ‘selectively oblivious’ to the world around me. And so describing physical details does not come nearly as naturally to me as emotions and dialogue. So, in this stage I will force myself to think about the physical details in each scene and make sure they are described sufficiently and interestingly. I’m actually looking forward to it as an interesting writing challenge. I found some very good advice here that I shall attempt to follow: http://learnedaboutwriting.blogspot.com/2008/05/ten-point-revision-strategy-8-describe.html)
    • place descriptions
    • people descriptions
    • body language
    • add descriptions for both people and places to overview document to check for consistencies
  • 5th Draft: Language and voice
    • check for passive voice- I had a lot of misconceptions about this and found some very good references to help:
    • kill adverbs- this is going to be harder than avoiding the candy jar in my co-workers office, for similar reasons. I know they’re bad, especially in excess, but they’re just so easy to slip in there. My brain supplies adverbs effortlessly, more interesting words only more grudgingly. Two in one sentence and that wasn’t even on purpose. I did a quick search on my rough draft for the number of words that ended in ‘ly.’ More than 900. Ouch. This will take some work, but I’m sure the prose will be much better for it. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on adverbs, and have come across some more balanced opinions that seem to provide good advice, that I’m going to try to follow:
    • search and destroy boring words and descriptors (things, stuff, etc.) Some good resources for identifying these:
    • look for forms of start and decide if they need to be there. This is a weird personal writing tic, that I’ve noticed. I’m not sure why I do it but I throw in forms of the word ‘start’ into sentences completely unnecessarily. A search revealed more that 100 occurrences of ‘start.’ I suspect most shouldn’t be there. For example, Bad: ‘Elizabeth got up and started pacing.’  Most of those words are wrong. Better: ‘Elizabeth stood and paced’. Even better, “Elizabeth wrenched her hands from Tim’s grasp, strode to the far corner of the room, turned and glared at the portrait on the wall, before crossing the room again. She repeated this five times before she spoke again. Tim counted.”  That was fun. Now I just need to do it to the rest of the book.
    • identify verbal and physical habits of main characters and check for consistency
    • Glasses check. (Specific to this story. One of my main characters has glasses and I sometimes forget they are there, which is relevant at times.)
  • Set aside for a couple weeks
  • Full read-through fresh as a reader, seeing if anything jumps out as wrong
    • make notes
    • fix any problems
  • Find beta readers
  • Write synopsis and blurb
  • Respond and make changes to beta feedback
  • Prepare submission to publisher

Luckily, I really enjoy the editing process or I might run screaming at this point. So any thoughts from others about what you do between first draft and letting someone else read it?