May 14 2011
Dear Mr. Edward.
The mysterious and elusive Dr. Laura Vivanco sent me the link to your book, as an example of a meta-romance. Even better, a meta-m/m-romance. I love romances about romance authors and I especially love those about the m/m romance world, considering its own peculiar fucked-upped-ness and stranger-than-fiction history (Z.A. Maxfield’s ePistols at Dawn being the best example I’ve read so far). This book does not have the light touch of Maxfield’s complicated layering. It’s a bit heavy-handed and at times a bit boring, honestly. But it has its sweet, poignant moments, and I’m glad I read it.
The biggest problem with the book was precisely its set-up. It starts with a Note: “The characters in this story are entirely fictional. They do not represent or lampoon any author or participant in any critique group. So if you’re wondering… don’t.” Heath (and yes, he’s actually Heathcliff) is in high school and in a critique group with other writers diverse in both age, gender, and genre. The leader of the group, however, is Marguerite Mays, top m/m romance author. As much as he adores Marguerite’s books, however, Heath keeps his fanboy love hidden for…not very well-described reasons. There seemed, primarily, to be a disconnect between him knowing about her books because he was a fanboy and bought them all, and knowing about them because he’d critiqued them all that was also never explained really well. Heath writes SF. He’d try his hand at romance but can’t come out as liking it. Marguerite has a chip on her shoulder about writing romance, especially m/m romance, which is depicted as way more profitable than m/f romance, which is fascinating from my perspective, but apparently unremarkable in the book.
Anyway, Marguerite also has a son, Ryan, who is in Heath’s school. He’s involved in the group in that it’s held in his house and he sits in on it, but he’s not officially part of the group. Heath, of course, has a huge crush on Ryan and turns into a wordless fool when confronted with his idol. Ryan eventually invites Heath to help him critique a space-opera-western he’s writing. This is how they eventually figure out how to find their way to each other. And when they eventually get together, the sex is hot.
However, Ryan isn’t out to his mother and when they come out…all hell breaks loose. And this is where the heavy commentary comes in. The story comments in rather heavy ways on who really writes m/m romance, and who has the right to write it, what people who write it should feel about real gay people in real life. But no one is a villain, everyone is redeemed, and Ryan and Heath have fun, hot, kinky sex (a little two kinky for the second sexual encounter either of them have ever had? Maybe. But then, maybe teenagers are way ahead of the sex I had when I was 17).
One problem I had: high school students? Really? I mean, it’s not unbelievable that high school students would act like this because I do, in fact, know a super-smart, wonderful, gay high school student who wants to be a writer, and I kept picturing him in this role. But, couple that with the fact that these boys read like boys, like teenagers, and it was pretty…uncomfortably squicky for me during the sex scenes. But that’s probably just my issue. After all, they were VERY good sex scenes. :)
Another problem was both the heavy-handedness of some of the message and the elision of parts of the explanation for characters’ motivation. Both of them, I think, are more a symptom, perhaps, of your newness to writing, Mr Edward. And also, some of the descriptions of the other writers in the group and of the writing that is critiqued was a bit boring, mainly because a novella (100 pages) should keep extraneous issues and description to a minimum.
For all that, though, I enjoyed this little story. It was cute, I liked the characters, but it’s eminently forgettable.