After emerging from an infrequent bout of #ReviewHell following a quickie tour of Goodreads, I asked myself if it was worth continuing writing stories in the gay literary fiction tradition and instead jump ship and go back to…
…oh, I dunno. Sports actioners with a dollop of nookie. Straight up guns-blazing westerns. Feel good, humorous fantasy adventures for YAs and adults alike. Maybe suspense, or a SF milthrill. Para-your-normal. Mysteries, cozies or otherwise. Or… gods forbid, MF. MF anything.
Why, you might ask.
Well, other than the fact I’ve actually got a foot in each of those genres just listed, what’s been getting my granny panties in a wad lately have been the mixed signals readers are giving to more traditional writers of gay fiction.
With the EXPLOSION of the MM romance trope, and its attendant requirements for HEAs, monogamy, wedding cakes and even (gasp) rugrats, there’s been a distinct move toward hetero type stories where it’s been possible, for a couple less-than-honest authors, to lift MF stories and simply do a name and pronoun change and have it read like a MM romance!
Chuck Wendig did a scathing blog post about how writers should write what they want, keep to their creative vision, and not be bound by the expectations—or demands—of readers who want stories tailor made to their quite exacting specifications.
Criticisms I’m seeing lately (and not just for my own titles) revolve around heat level expectations, around wildly differing definitions of insta-love vs insta-lust or insta-attraction. About how much sex is too much or not enough, or (more rarely) just right. How a scene of affection (SoA) can be hot but dubbed “Harlequin” in the same breath, and marked down because of that. When said SoA should occur, how long it should last, and quite a few talking points on protection and how it should be SOP because… good citizens acting responsibly.
Perhaps it’s the criticism of a character’s clothing choices, or making decisions running counter to what the reader would select if in that position. The height disparity between male characters and how that feminizes the shorter man, thus destroying the power dynamic.
Insinuating one’s own personal history into a storyline and finding fault because the plot doesn’t follow the correct trajectory as defined by the reader’s past experiences.
Then there’re the definitions of HEA, HFN and upbeat endings super-imposed on genres not congruent with romance guidelines.
Trigger warnings. Oh, my dear sweet auntie Mae… trigger warnings.
I don’t need to beat a dead horse (Mr Bob would not approve), but it’s gotten to the point where anyone who has even a minor quibble feels entitled to voice personal preferences, not so much as a simple opinion, but more in a messianic tone of thou shalts.
Let me make it clear: I love reviews, I adore reviewers who read and comment—good, bad, indifferent—and I appreciate anyone who was moved to voice an opinion because of something I wrote. It’s all good.
So, I’m not review-slamming, just pointing out that there are opinions, and then there are deliberate attempts to subvert an author’s prerogative to tell the story in his own way, bringing to bear all the elements of craft and style at his command.
Lemme get to the point before you wander off…
I write gay literary fiction, NOT MM Romance, but my works have been thrust into the same pot with standard romances and all the expectations that readers have for how characters should think, feel and act. My HEAs… aren’t. Well, they’re sorta, but not exactly, and my characters may not ever say “I love you” but they’ll qualify on every other metric of loyalty and actions speaking louder than words. And it might be for now, not for forever, but hey ho that’s life.
That’s why my work is more literary, more a slice of real life than a fantasy.
Writing that way comes at a price. And right now, I’m asking if it’s a price I’m willing to continue paying.
Why do I, cis-nothing but identifying strongly with male interests and behaviors, write so extensively using the gay cultural milieu as my jumping off point to explore the power balance and intricacies of erotic relationships? Short answer: because it’s what I know from a very long career in a male-centric work environment. I have an ear for how men talk, how they problem solve, how they relate to one another. And I have gay friends who answer questions with brutal honesty.
And this is what interests me. A few years ago, it was basketball and dragons, horses and sailboats, alt history and dark urban fantasy. Now it’s gay lit fic.
I’m pretty sure that’s not what the current class of readers want in the MM genres and sub-genres. And though you can’t please all the readers all the time, an author does want to at least winkle out that subset of readers who appreciate literary, transgressive or speculative fiction. Male readers are generally very supportive of my work and that is such a rush. But getting in front of that target audience has proved to be elusive and—quite honestly—exhausting.
So, here I am, dithering about quitting this genre and picking up the threads of other WiPs currently on the back burner. Anton, the sequel to Roman—hands down my most requested. Another Crow Creek, maybe holiday-themed. And the final installment of Tank’s saga, Too Tough for Love—most definitely not a romance.
Or just quitting. It’s an option. Not sure I can do that, though.
I scribble, therefore I am…
And in case you’re curious, those two aforementioned titles are THE EAGLE AND THE FOX and TIMBER LAKE. Genre: gay, suspense, western, literary fiction