LGBT Romance in the mainstream

“Alternative Romance Goes Mainstream” A Panel Discussion at RWA in July

I’m going to begin this post with a few experiences Tony and I had this past weekend to try and show the bigger picture. On Thursday, we went to a small dinner party; all the guests were gay men, in long term relationships, and all live locally within the community of New Hope. All are well educated, live in wonderful homes, have white collar jobs, and some even have more than one home. At one point, the conversation drifted to books and I was surprised to hear the guests talking about “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Only two of us had read the book. When I said I loved it and actually discussed it here on my blog, he laughed and scowled and looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. It was all in good fun. He wasn’t serious and we’ve known each other long enough to say what we really feel. But when he talked about FSoG, he used words like, “terribly written,” and “filthy and disgusting.” We agreed to disagree and left it at that. Though everyone else in the room was interested in hearing about a BDSM book going mainstream, none said they would bother to read it or buy it because it wasn’t “gay enough.” I didn’t get upset by that either. I know I have eclectic taste and I’m more open to other genres and sub-genres than most of the gay men I know.

On Saturday, two good friends came here for a small dinner party so we could celebrate a birthday. Tony and I entertain often and don’t get many chances to have small intimate groups like this. They are a gay couple who have been together for over thirty years and live part time in Key West, part time in Manhattan, and part time in New Hope. One is a fiction writer who published several novels back in the early 1980’s. The other has worked as an executive in publishing since the 1970’s. Tony and I have been celebrating birthdays with them, both here in New Hope and on Cape Cod, since 1995. At one point, when I least expected it, the conversation once again turned to “Fifty Shades of Grey.” No one, including Tony, could understand how a book that “awful” could go mainstream and become so popular, and they couldn’t understand how I could actually like it so much. Once again I was out numbered and just smiled. I learned a long time ago that when you’re talking about books no one’s going to win. It’s just that the sheer look of terror on their faces was interesting to see. In any event, I had the last laugh because I fell in love with a book that’s become an overnight success. So I’m clearly not the only one who agrees that there is something to FSoG.

This afternoon Tony and I went to another birthday brunch for a larger group of friends (we celebrate birthdays a lot in the gay community around here because a lot of people aren’t close to family…often comes with the territory of being openly gay). And the guest list was larger but just about the same dynamics as the two previous evenings. Gay men, in relationships for over twenty years, and all professionals. This time, when the conversation moved toward “Fifty Shades of Grey,” I was surprised to hear that three more had read the book besides me. Unfortunately, I was the only one who would admit I loved it. The rest made basically the same negative comments and called it trashy, dirty, filthy, and poorly written. I didn’t get into the fanfic aspect. None of them knew about it because the majority of people in the mainstream know nothing about fanfic.

This is all leading up to something. Late last night I came across a blog post on Chicks & Dicks I found interesting. I tried to comment on the thread but my comment was either eaten or someone deleted it by accident. It was there one minute and gone the next. I was using a tablet, so it could have been that. Tablets aren’t completely reliable for blogging. In any event, the blog post was titled “Alternative Romance Goes Mainstream” and it was about a panel that was put together by a woman named Sarah Frantz who is allegedly an expert on romance. I know nothing about her and I’ve never heard of her before I read that post so I’m just going by what I read last night. The panel is going to discuss LGBT Romance at the July RWA conference, and the broad range of topics LGBT Romance encompasses.

Though I do not consider myself a “m/m romance” author, I found the entire post very interesting. I consider myself a gay fiction writer who has written gay romance from a gay man’s POV. And this is nothing new to me. I’ve been doing this since college, for LGBT presses, since writers were submitting their manuscripts in hard copy. So even though the post is totally unrelated to me in a general sense as a writer, I did find it interesting to see how “m/m romance” authors are looking into the prospects of “m/m romance” (and other LGBT Romance) going mainstream.

The post is very enlightening in more than one way. And the panel looks impressive. Here are the names:

Suzanne Brockmann, New York Times bestselling author (Ballantine)
· K.A. Mitchell, m/m romance author (Samhain and Carina)
· Lauren Dane, New York Times bestselling author (Samhain and Berkley)
· Kim Baldwin, Emmy-winning journalist, author (Bold Strokes Books)
· Heather Osborn, Executive Editor, Samhain Publishing
· Len Barot/Radclyffe/L.L. Raand, author, editor, publisher, owner, Bold Strokes Books

I’ve only heard of two, Suzanne Brockmann and Len Barot/Radclyffe. I haven’t read either of them but I did see something on facebook about Suzanne Brockmann once and a very good lesbian friend who only reads lesbian fiction has raved about Radclyffe to me more than once. My friend buys Radclyffe’s books in Provincetown every summer, stocks up, and reads them all winter. I’m sure the rest of the panel is just as talented.

According to the post, the panel will discuss how LGBT Romance is being accepted…I’m assuming they are talking about the mainstream and how the mainstream is receiving LGBT Romance. Sounds like a fascinating discussion and I’m hoping they post more about it in the future. As a gay fiction writer, I’m curious about this, too. I haven’t seen much or heard much about LGBT fiction in the mainstream. One reason why I still have about ten finished LGBT manuscripts in hard copy(which are not erotic and are geared toward the mainstream) in my files that have never been submitted to publishers or agents is because I haven’t seen a market for them.

One reason why I’m curious about the panel’s discussion has to do with balance, with regard to erotic romance readers and the potential mainstream market. I’m hoping they get into this at RWA. I’ve always been torn between how much erotic romance readers care about hot sex scenes and how much they care about emotional love scenes. I think all authors of erotic romance try to get that perfect balance between good sex scenes and emotional love as close to perfect as they can. But it doesn’t always work out that way. I tend to concentrate more heavily on the sex scenes because I think that’s what my readers want from me and I don’t want to disappoint them. At the same time, if I’m writing a romance and not gay erotica, I’m hoping the emotional scenes are there, too. I’ve been torn more than once between wondering whether or not I’ve added enough sex to a book or not enough. I also can’t help but wonder if FSoG would be the big hit it has been if it didn’t have any sex scenes. I can tell you this. The books I’ve written without sex, like my “Strawberries and Cream at the Plaza,” have received stellar reviews but haven’t done well in sales. To be honest, I didn’t expect them to and I don’t write them very often. I hate to think that one of my readers picked up a book I wrote, found out it was nothing they expected it to be, and felt as if they’d wasted their time and their money. One of the reasons why I’m releasing “Chase of a Lifetime,” a full length novel, as a .99 Kindle book on Amazon this week is to pay back my readers for being so wonderful over the years. I know people have book budgets and I’m hoping the .99 thing will be something that gives them a break in a time when gas prices are soaring out of control and no one seems to know when the economy will come back.

I’m just a humble observer on the outside looking in when it comes to RWA and “m/m romance,” but I do recommend reading the post at Chicks & Dicks in its entirety. The concept of any LGBT fiction crossing into the mainstream fascinates me for many reasons. I’m personally a huge fan of Lesbian fiction. I’ve never written it, but love reading it. I wrote a transgender main character…one of my favorite characters…in “American Star II,” and loved every minute of it. One of my bestselling short stories, “A Regular Bud,” gets heavily into gender bending with high heel fetish. And even though I didn’t see one single gay male author on a panel that will be discussing “m/m romance” at one point during the RWA discussions, I can’t wait to hear more about what is accomplished through this panel.