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All m/m fiction is not created equal

A while back I was tweeting about m/m novels with a couple of m/m writers. I mentioned that my least favorite explanations for why women read m/m romance was “If one man is good, two men are even better!” Both of the writers agreed, and we moved on to other topics. I went back to surfing romance blogs and what did I find? A post answering the question, “Why do straight women read gay male erotica?” And what was the answer? Yes, you guessed it: Two men are twice as hot as one. Argh!

I should mention here that it is not only mainstream romance bloggers who give this reason. Writers of m/m have also been known to put it at the top of their list of reasons for writing it. And those of us who review m/m here at DA are not shy about expressing our satisfaction with books that offer explicit depictions of gay male sex. So why does the constant refrain of 2XY > 1XY  HotHotHot!!! get to me so much?

For one thing, there is a tendency to lump all m/m fiction into the category of erotica (the post in question conflated romance and erotic m/m novels). Moreover, many readers don’t appear to distinguish between well-written, thoughtful erotic fiction and stories that are aptly called “stroke novels.” The latter serve pretty much the function their descriptor suggests; as long as they are sexually arousing, the quality of the prose and the characterizations of the protagonists are almost beside the point.

Booksellers like Fictionwise still categorize most gay and lesbian romance titles as erotica. And remember when Amazon pulled its m/m titles on the grounds that they were porn? This is unfair both to writers whose work is being mischaracterized and to readers who are looking for erotic novels and wind up with romance (or vice versa).  Now maybe, for some readers, reading a short, less than explicit passage in which male characters have sex is emotionally equivalent to an extremely explicit scene of heterosexual sex. In that case, all m/m romance is erotica, regardless of heat and quality levels. But I think for many veteran readers, the distinctions between warm, hot, and extremely hot sex in m/m are pretty similar to those in m/f, and so calling all m/m erotica collapses one of the key distinctions for romance readers: the centrality of a romantic (as opposed to sexual) relationship and the guarantee of an HEA/HFN ending.

Second, this conflation of distinct types of m/m fiction feeds into existing stereotypes of all romance, i.e., that the distinctions we make between erotic romance, erotica, and porn are beside the point because romance novels are just stroke novels, porn for women with no redeeming literary value. Just as we distinguish PwP novels from erotica and romance in m/f, we should maintain that distinction in m/m writing.

Third, I worry that by privileging the importance of sexual titillation over the other types of rewards that we receive from reading m/m, we run the risk of focusing on gay men and their sexual relationships to the exclusion of other characteristics. That focus has the potential to reinforce the stereotype that gay men are all about whom they sleep with. When we fail to distinguish between romance, erotica, and stroke fiction, we’re extending that perspective to the whole genre. Distinguishing among them doesn’t mean that we categorize by the amount and type of sex in the book, but by the role that sex plays for the narrative and the characters. When the sexual dimensions of a relationship (or an individual’s journey) move the story and characterization forward, they are integral to the story.

However much romance readers understand that they are reading fiction, they take away and store information that they acquire in novels. You only have to look at historical romance to see how the process works. Scottish romance teaches people about Highlanders and kilt-wearing in ways that are divorced from actual people and practices. Novels about colonial India leave readers with the impression that the most important inhabitants were Anglo-Indians and the most important event was the Mutiny of 1857. These fictional exaggerations and falsehoods are mostly harmless and inconsequential for Scots and Indians then and now. But it’s a bit different when we’re talking about contemporary issues and people. For minority groups in particular, the majority’s understanding is heavily influenced by stereotypes, and the less concrete knowledge one has, the more stereotypes are likely to contribute. The best examples of m/m romantic and erotic fiction, whether explicit or relatively tame sexually, undermine stereotypes and depict the complexity of human relationships just as much as the best examples of m/f romantic and erotic fiction do. Stroke novels are about something else entirely. They’re useful and we love them, but they’re not part of the same genre.

Hours after I first drafted this post, Rick Welts, the President & CEO of the Phoenix Suns of the NBA, came out of the closet in a front-page story in the New York Times. When I read the story, I realized that he had had two long-term, committed relationships in his adult life. One was cut short by his partner’s death from AIDS-related complications in 1994, after 17 years together. The other, which lasted 14 years, ended because the demands of the closet made the relationship too difficult to sustain. If I have the arithmetic right, Rick Welts spent the majority of the last 35 years in two non-overlapping committed relationships. I’m guessing he would make a fairly boring main character in an m/m stroke novel (although who knows, he could have had a rich and varied sex life). But I’m positive he’d make a helluva romance hero. I really hope he gets his HEA.

Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Jordan Castillo Price, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley.

88 Comments

  1. Aleksandr Voinov
    May 24, 2011 @ 04:23:36

    I’ve never understood the need for anybody to “explain” (or: apologize for?) writing what we write.

    Crime writers rarely say that all they have on their minds is serial killers, and it’s widely accepted that people write what they write because they like it or because reading widely in the genre has triggered ideas (“WHY ON EARTH ARE YOU WRITING KIDS’ BOOKS?” is not something I’ve heard reported from anywhere).

    Personally, I cringe a little every time an author justifies why s/he writes (it’s usually an iteration of “I’ve ALWAYS wanted to write, since 3rd grade!”), and even more when they justify what they write. Especially when it comes to anything that has the faint whiff of an erotic charge (apologies for the mixed metaphor).

    There are some writers that go all out and say “I write BDSM fiction because I’m in the lifestyle”, but especially women authors of m/m stories seem to feel like they have to defend themselves (and no bl**dy wonder after all the hostility from the “gay literary establishment”, starting, but by no means ending, with Lambda’s “panty check”).

    I’ve always thought the “two men are hotter” platitude was an easily raised, widely accepted “shield” to protect something the author feels uneasy – or intimidated – about. It may even have been used by trans* people and post-gender people. I’ve never heard a man use that excuse for anything a man has written.

    There are so many interesting things to pick through in that essay, so I’ll surely drop in and comment some more, later (right now I’m at work).

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  2. Angie
    May 24, 2011 @ 05:23:19

    When I’m asked why I’m into m/m, whether why I read it or why I write it or both, I’ll say that I have two answers, a long one and serious one and a short and semi-serious one. The short answer, which I give first, is that if one hot guy is good, two is better and three is a party. I’m sorry if that distresses you, but it’s true so far as it goes.

    It’s also all the explanation 90% of the people who ask are willing to sit still for. There’s much more to it than the short explanation, of course, but most people don’t want to hear the long explanation. If you’re writing, they won’t read it — it’s a teal dear, and they’ll click on to something else. If you’re talking to someone in real space, you can see their attention wandering before you get very far into the “real” explanation. I always give the short one first because it’s something they’ll listen to, and it’s something I expect most people will get. The fact that it’s only part of the answer is regrettable, but it’s better than them not getting any of it.

    The long explanation is that there are a lot of reasons I prefer m/m to m/f. One big one is the issue of gender politics — there’s a huge, rotten load of baggage that is dragged along behind any m/f relationship. You can’t escape it, it’s always there no matter what you do or how you try to structure your story, no matter whether you “believe” in it or want to deal with it or not. (This right here will lose a huge chunk of the population; they don’t want to hear about gender issues.)

    One of the first m/m romances I ever wrote was a vampire story I posted a chunk at a time up on the old RomEx RT on GEnie, back in the late eighties. Jo Beverley commented that my guys had a truly equal relationship, in a way that was impossible to manage with an m/f relationship. She was right, and dumping all that baggage by writing m/m (or, I’m assuming f/f, although I’m not into that) is wonderfully freeing. I can focus on the characters as individuals and not have to stress out about what they represent in the context of five thousand years of patriarchy, or what’s symbolized by who’s on top when they have sex. :/

    Also, m/m romance is a relatively young genre. Yes, there’ve been gay novels for ages, and even books about gay men getting into relationships and having sex, but m/m as it’s written and defined now is distinct from those, stylistically and thematically. No one would ever call John Preston’s Alex Kane books — even the first one where he and Danny get together — an m/m romance. Kyle Stone’s PB 500 books certainly wouldn’t fit comfortably on the m/m romance shelf either, despite Kyle actually being a woman (another GEnie person I met back when.) These are great books, but they’re significantly different from modern m/m romance.

    And because m/m romance is a young genre (or I’m assuming it’s because of that — it’ll be interesting to see what happens in twenty or thirty years) it doesn’t have the built-up rules and restrictions and prohibitions and requirements that mainstream het romance has. Mainstream het is very strictly defined, like a sonnet. Within the boundaries, once you’ve mastered the form, you can exercise great creativity, and the stand-out authors can do wonderful things while still following the rules. The biggest names are occasionally allowed to push a finger or a toe over one line or another, although even they get howls of outrage and showers of rotten eggs from the furious Guardians of the Rules among the readership. [wry smile] M/m doesn’t have that, though (yet?) and m/m authors have much greater freedom to try different things and still have their work qualify as m/m romance.

    Josh Lanyon comes immediately to mind here — I love his books, but if he were writing m/f instead, he’d never be allowed on the Romance shelf at the bookstore, certainly not his series books, like Adrien English. And what a loss that would be. Books like Bareback, with its blatant infidelity (OMG the world is ending!!!) would never have been accepted by a mainstream het romance publisher either; within m/m, there are people who don’t care for it, but it’s recognized as a milestone book of the genre, and people who don’t like infidelity stories just don’t read it, without making the fuss I’ve seen on the het side for far lesser transgressions.

    As a writer, I appreciate that freedom, and have very little interest in ever writing het again.

    That said, I completely agree with you about how the Gay Romance = Erotica meme is destructive and demeaning to gay people. M/m romance is not just stroke fiction and it’s not porn. Romance, erotic romance, erotica and porn are all different things. Any of them can come in an m/m flavor, but calling romance “erotica” (even if it has sex scenes) or calling erotic romance “porn” does neither the genre nor its readers any favors. When I go to the store to buy oranges, I want oranges, not carrots, and having the vendor explain to me that they’re both orange, they’re both sweet and they’re both produce doesn’t make carrots an acceptable substitute. If I buy a crate labelled “Oranges” and get home to find it full of carrots, I’m going to be angry.

    I was grouching with a writer friend about it just the other day. My novel, A Hidden Magic, is seventy-some thousand words long and has one and a half (really) sex scenes in it. The sex is, I hope, well written, but there’s nothing incredibly out of the ordinary about it, nothing kinky or wild, and there certainly isn’t very much of it. Despite this, ARe has it on the “Erotica” shelf, and Fictionwise, as you said, puts all it’s GLBT romance in Erotica. So not only is this insulting to gay people, it annoys me on a personal level because readers who are looking for erotica specifically are likely to buy my book and be disappointed, and come away with a negative impression of it and of me, and people who are looking for plot-heavy books with just a bit of sex might not ever pick it up if they think it’s erotica.

    BTW, I tagged my book “not erotica” on ARe, and I encourage anyone else who has a GLBT book there that’s on the Erotica shelf but isn’t erotica to do the same.

    I also agree with you that writers have some responsibility to present members of marginalized groups in a realistic fashion, subverting stereotypes rather than adding to them. It’s frustrating to go to the trouble of creating what I hope are distinct, individual characters who don’t fit the “Male, Gay, Flaming Sexpot” stereotype, only to have the book labelled by the vendors in a way which suggests that’s exactly what it’s about. :/ I really wish they’d quit that.

    Angie

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  3. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 06:57:16

    Great essay Sunita. I am sure I will come back later too, but for now I just want to say that now the main reason why I worry about conflating erotica and romance in mm fiction is because some readers who may be looking for romance as opposed to erotica, or as you said finding “stroke fiction” instead of well written erotica novel with great storyline and characters AND great sex. I am personally NOT (there are exceptions of course) interested in stroke fiction, but I have certainly enjoyed hot sex scenes in the book with great characters and storyline. A lot of readers are interested in the stories where sex takes first row, to each their own, you know?

    But for somebody who does not know where to look for the books which first and foremost have gay romance in it, I feel sad when Amazon marks Tamara Allen’s books as erotica, because IMO they are so not. Shawn Kennedy’s Tigers and Devils have all sex scenes fade to black, Almost like being in Love by Steve Kluger – same thing and the list can go on and on and on.

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  4. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 07:02:15

    Angie, I would agree that mm right now has many subgenres, and romantic mystery is certainly one of them IMO, I would say though that not just gay fiction, but gay romances had been around for ages too, way before the genre exploded several years ago. How else would you classify Gordon Merrick but as a writer of gay romance, or I should clarify that the books by him that I have read were gay romance, maybe he wrote something else too.

    What is comfort and joy by Jim Grimsley if not gay romance? (One of my favorite books in this genre ever by the way and no, it does not have explicit sex scenes either as far as I remember, but such a beatiful love story IMO).

    Thats the only small point I wanted to take exception to.

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  5. Cris
    May 24, 2011 @ 07:27:42

    I’m relatively new to m/m romance, but since my first Josh Lanyon book, I can’t get enough (of the good ones, the bad ones make me irritable). Sure, I love the two hot guys angle, but mostly I read for the depiction of the type of relationship that men have as opposed to m/f. Like Angie said, when you take the gender politics out and you have a relationship built on camaraderie and equality, that just so… well… romantic.

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  6. chris booklover
    May 24, 2011 @ 08:17:37

    If the “one man is good, two men are even better” explanation is invalid, why is m/m fiction so much more popular than f/f among straight women? After all, all the good things that you can say about m/m novels apply just as much to f/f ones.

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  7. hapax
    May 24, 2011 @ 08:17:50

    Angie #2 — I found myself nodding along at every sentence, ESPECIALLY the part about reading a relationship not encumbered by thousands of years of gender crap.

    Agreed so much that when I read the description of your book, I ran out to buy it.

    Alas, it is only available in e-format. [sad face]

    I’m posting this here to remind authors that a) yes, participating in genre discussions is a fabulous way to market your works, BUT ONLY if you actually contribute to the conversations and the reference to your books is relevant; and b) yes, we all know that e-publishing is the wave of the future and anyone who doesn’t like it is a fuddy-duddy old Luddite, but us FDOLs still have plenty of cash we are willing to spend, and it doesn’t hurt to at least make a print-on-demand format an option, because we WILL pay extra for it.

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  8. hapax
    May 24, 2011 @ 08:24:35

    @chris booklover — I can only speak for myself, but I love a well-written, character-driven f/f, just as I love the same in m/m, m/f, and various other combinations.

    Show me where I can buy some!

    I don’t know whether that’s because they don’t sell, or because the publishers have decided that they don’t sell, and it’s created a vicious feedback loop.

    But all the f/f I find is erotica [or porn, some of it] and that bores me. I’m interested in how minds and hearts and personalities fit together, not bodies.

    Do you have any recommendations for me?

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  9. jayhjay
    May 24, 2011 @ 08:40:15

    I think one of the main reasons why I like m/m is similar to what Angie said. The relationships between two men can be depicted differently than with m/f. Whether it is fair or not, there are some stories that work with two men that are a harder sell with m/f. For example, I think men in gay romance can get away with dating/sleeping with men other than the hero for a lot longer than if they were dating a woman. And this may be just me, but I an handle an older and younger man much easier than I can stomach an older man with a younger woman (especially with historicals). And the sexual(and relationship) dynamic can often be depicted differently with two men than with m/f.

    Regardless, I totally agree that there is a distinction between m/m romance and erotica. I still want my HEA (or HFN) no matter how hot the sex is.

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  10. Jess B.
    May 24, 2011 @ 09:22:04

    @hapax: Not all f/f books are erotica, you might just be browsing in the wrong shelves. I’m currently reading Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters about two girls who meet in the Music Halls of England and their tangled relationship. It was in the general fiction section at the bookstore.

    I don’t know how explicit the love scenes are because I haven’t gotten to them yet, but I do suggest browsing the lit section of the bookstore for more romantic stories. HEA of course isn’t guaranteed on that wall, so something to consider I suppose.

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  11. Isabel C.
    May 24, 2011 @ 09:31:36

    M/M doesn’t do much for me. But I’ve seen discussions of it elsewhere, and I think a lot of the “because it’s hot” answer is a response to That Guy demanding to know whyyyyyy women like that sort of thing and/or throwing around a lot of psychology about “unthreatening sexuality” (shut up, That Guy) and “lack of female rivals” (shut UP, That Guy). It’s the Apple Jacks answer: because we do, we eat what we like, now piss off.

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  12. Jess
    May 24, 2011 @ 09:33:15

    I like m/m cause it involves different parts. I know how my vagina feels, looks, acts etc I also spent 12 years reading straight fiction – I have read every m/f genre and sub theme out there. (Ive been thru m/f/m genre to)Its hard to surprise or delight me.

    Guys often think 2 women going at it are hot and we never really question why they do.

    So why do we necessarily have to label a reason why women find two men together hot.

    Although you might find it irritating to read ‘two cocks are better then one’ (or variation of that) – I think that is just a normal response because its is a personal question that you are asking.

    If I asked any of the men in my life why they like girl on girl action – they would probably say, ‘two sets of tits are better than one’ etc.

    Basically I think this is a personal question that some people will want to answer, and those that dont will say (2 for price of 1 deal).

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  13. K. Z. Snow
    May 24, 2011 @ 09:34:12

    I don’t spend any more time pondering why women read and write m/m, myself included, than I spend wondering why people prefer one sport over another. But the “two hot men are better than one” reason has always made me uncomfortable because of its implications: all queer fiction is or borders on porn; writers are simply pandering to readers’ hunger for titillation; readers are only interested in being titillated. In other words, we’re all part of a circle jerk with decidedly voyeuristic overtones.

    The best queer fiction, like the best of any fiction, is more than the sum of its protags’ hotness. The elements of our craft — characterization, plot, setting, mastery of language — take precedence over sexual content. If the story is a romance, then that becomes a central element.

    The bottom line for me is the “good fit” factor. I simply like writing in this genre. And, provided a story is well conceived and executed, I like reading in it too.

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  14. Chris
    May 24, 2011 @ 09:35:40

    I was just talking to a fellow m/m writer about the fact that many places still stick m/m in the category of erotic. (One of us might have been bemoaning the fact just a wee bit.) Just because the two leads happen to be men, its clumped into that category? Its unfair to both readers and writers to do such a thing. Readers can’t find the stories they’re really looking for and authors can’t reach the audience they’re trying to find.

    Just my two-cents. :)

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  15. Sunita
    May 24, 2011 @ 09:43:12

    I had a feeling this would be one of those times where the comments would be better than the post. Thanks, everyone, for such thought-provoking comments.

    Alexander and Angie: I think that any time an author chooses to write out of the mainstream, questions arise as to why. It’s unfair but commonplace. And I have definitely heard the condescension about writing children’s books.

    I certainly don’t object to people reading m/m because two guys are hot (they frequently are, especially when well written). What I object to is that answer to the exclusion of others. Angie, your description of short and semi-serious makes total sense to me! And if you told me that, I’d probably nod my head. But then, I wouldn’t find the long answer TL:DR, so I’m clearly not the norm.

    Sirius, thanks! I look forward hearing more if you have time, because I know you have read widely and thought about these issues.

    On the f/f issue, Chris brings up a very valid point. I would say that while I find it easy to read lesbian fiction, f/f romance that is too focused on the sex (or straight erotic) is not that arousing to me (although it can be in lesbian fiction). Maybe it’s because there’s less feeling of learning about an “other”? So it has to be about the characters? That’s not a good answer, I know. I’ll think more and try again later.

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  16. hapax
    May 24, 2011 @ 09:58:48

    @Jess B — thanks for the tip. I loved FINGERSMITH, but I never thought of it as a “love story” (although the relationship between the two protagonists is very romantic, sensual, and satisfying).

    Judging by the reviews, TIPPING THE VELVET looks like an excellent read, but very far from what I’d call a romance.

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  17. Allie
    May 24, 2011 @ 10:28:29

    Cris said “you have a relationship built on camaraderie and equality, that just so… well… romantic.” This is why I read m/m. I also love the way guys talk and think, and if someone can capture that accurately, I find it charming. In my experience, guys are very straightforward and this can make for some truly hilarious moments when the romance is between two guys.

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  18. Cathy in AK
    May 24, 2011 @ 10:33:37

    Like others have said above, it’s irksome that m/m and f/f books, no matter the actual content, are sometimes lumped in with erotica or erotic romance. While I enjoy a good sweaty, explicit tale now and again, I’m more inclined to want to read a story about the build up of a relationship. With a gripping plot, of course : ) If I have to scour descriptions in the erotica section for the less erotic f/f I’m in the mood for, I might get frustrated and leave before finding what I want. For the seller, that is a disservice to me, the customer, and to the author(s) I might be missing because they are mislabelled : (

    @hapax and Jess B.–Sarah Waters is one of my all-time favorite authors. “Tipping the Velvet” is one of her more explicit works, but not a romance, no. “Fingersmith”, “The Night Watch” and “Affinity” are also more relationship oriented, but not necessarily romances. Still, all quite amazing : )

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  19. Mandi
    May 24, 2011 @ 10:49:05

    Great piece Sunita!

    I don’t understand why M/M always has to fall into the Erotic category. My favorite M/M – Tigers and Devils by Sean Kennedy doesn’t even have a sex scene in it.

    I have two answers for why I read M/M – the first is my silly – there is double the hairy chests :)

    But other than that important fact, there are some damn good M/M writers and stories out there. They have a different dynamic than M/F and I enjoy reading from their perspective. I’m a girl – it is different than what I can experience.

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  20. Tamara
    May 24, 2011 @ 11:00:09

    “Maybe it’s because there’s less feeling of learning about an “other”?”

    It is a good answer, Sunita (and Jess.) It’s definitely mine.

    I write m/m for basically the same reason I write historical romance. If some things can only be lived through imagination, that’s where I’ll live them. Sharing the experience through writing just makes it that much better.

    Maybe this is not a good admission for a romance writer, but “hot” is not in my head when I’m writing. I think of sex scenes as sweet little glimpses into the intimate moments between the characters. I don’t get into the mechanics in detail (and have lost chances of publication because of it.) That’s just what works for the way I write. (Yeah, okay, I was born in the wrong century.)

    But to have my books shelved with erotica makes me feel I’m misleading readers (and I know it has, because readers have commented on it and one or two have downgraded reviews because of it.)
    I feel bad about it, but it seems there’s little I can do. I’ve even discussed it with my publisher. Apparently, at least to Amazon’s thinking, that’s how readers find m/m romance, by searching erotica. So for the time being, I can only continue to mislead. :(

    Really, I do understand why I’m shelved with erotica, but it’s certainly not doing me any good, nor any of the other m/m romance writers who are heavy on the romance, light (or fade to black) on the sex.

    Thank you for bringing this issue to everyone’s attention, Sunita. Letters of opinion like that nudge us in the direction we need to go. Nudging is good.:D

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  21. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 11:12:42

    Thats good Tamara that you understand why your books are shelved with erotica, because I certainly do not :). And I totally realize that there is nothing you can do about that, but it is annoying to me that readers like myself who may be in the minority but do exist could not find you. I doubt that all readers of mm search it on Amazon by erotica, because I know I do not, surely I am not the single species? :) Something tells me (and I could be wrong of course) that this is how Amazon justified the way they do things.

    What I continue to do is stubbornly NOT marking erotica but romance any gay romance book including yours which I do not feel qualifies as such, but as romance surely does IMO.

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  22. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 11:15:27

    I meant “tagging” not marking of course, sorry.

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  23. Heather Massey
    May 24, 2011 @ 11:26:03

    @hapax Carina Press will release Cathy Pegau’s RULEBREAKER, a non-erotic f/f sci-fi romance.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking post, Sunita. Count me in as a someone who’s annoyed by the conflation of romance and m/m or f/f erotic novels.

    I’ve enjoyed the m/m SFR stories I’ve read (both for the hot heroes but more so the romance) and am hoping for the equivalent in f/f. My hope is that in SFR at least, authors will explore various gender and political issues through the lens of such romances. Variety is good.

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  24. Jill Sorenson
    May 24, 2011 @ 11:34:28

    My impression is that m/m books with explicit content far outsell the sweet stories. Straight female readers are demanding a bit of stroke with their m/m, so let’s not pretend that the sexual titillation factor isn’t important. Like it or not, “two guys are twice as hot!” is the number one reason m/m romance is popular.

    When I review I try to make the distinction between lesbian romance and f/f. Lesbian romance is often written by lesbians for lesbians. F/f is written by straights for straights. That is a simplistic definition and it doesn’t fit every author or story, but I think it’s worth mentioning here. I was just considering this topic the other day (f/f vs. lesbian romance) and I realized that there are no sweet f/f romances. I mean, I’ve never seen one. And if I did I’d call it a lesbian romance. Because the titillation (and perhaps objectification?) is part of what makes it f/f.

    Now, lesbian romance can be sweet OR explicit, and objectification is not an issue because the author is gay herself, and/or has made an attempt to portray authentic gay characters. Which is not to say that authors of f/f or m/m don’t portray realistic gay characters. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But my theory is that titillation for straights is a key component in f/f and m/m. Without that factor, I would call this kind of story “same-sex romance” or gay romance.

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  25. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 11:43:28

    Jill Sorenson, of course there are many readers who only want hot, hot and hotter m/m romances, I do not have statistics, but certainly conversations online I have had point to that direction, however I am most certainly not pretending that sexual titillation is VERY far down on the list of the reasons I read mm romance and readers like myself also do exist, I have had those conversations as well. It is quite possible that such readers like myself are the minority of course, as I said I do not have statistics. Actually if I want erotica, I am likely to pick up short PWP story, and almost never look for erotica in the long novels. As I mentioned before, I will enjoy a lot a beatiful sex scene between the characters whom I grew to love (or hate), who are engaged in interesting and fun storyline, but if *all* that characters are doing in the novel are spending their time having sex (75% -80% of the page time), um nope, not for me, never was.

    I personally use mm and gay romance interchangeably, but thats just myself. I am not qualified to talk about lesbian romance, I started reading it recently enough and do not feel I am well read in it yet.

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  26. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 11:46:58

    Just thought of the recent example of the book I enjoyed a great deal – Kindred Hearts by Rowan Speedwell. Lovely historical romance, very well researched IMO and LONG,yum. This long book have had three or four sex scenes (if I remember correctly, can never keep that in my mind), all of them are advancing the plot, none felt gratuitous and extremely enjoyable. I would never call this one erotica.

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  27. Moriah Jovan
    May 24, 2011 @ 12:20:47

    @Jill Sorenson:

    My impression is that m/m books with explicit content far outsell the sweet stories.

    That goes for m/f, too.

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  28. Sunita
    May 24, 2011 @ 12:38:53

    Moriah and Sirius beat me to it. Of course there’s a huge market for stories that titillate, in romance, not just in erotica, and obviously there’s stroke fiction. But there’s also a market for stories that are romantic but don’t have a high sexx quotient, like those by Tamara Allen, Sean Kennedy, and Josh Lanyon (among others).

    What I find frustrating is that everything is lumped together, not that there is a wide variety. I like the wide variety.

    Everyone does not classify their reading according to hotness. I classify by type of story and plot/characterization/language quality (as defined by me for my reading). So I put KA Mitchell, Tamara Allen, and Josh Lanyon in the same group, i.e., well written novels featuring male protagonists.

    One of my favorite m/m books is KA Mitchell’s Regularly Scheduled Life. It has LOTS of sex scenes. They are utterly integral to the story and the character development. If you took them out, it would be a different and to my mind far less effective book.

    Some people use heat level to sort, and for them, the distinction is important. Others use romance v. non-romance and the distinction between romance, erotica, and stroke is important. The point is, unless you read indiscriminately, you are better off when a book’s description includes where it fits on a number of dimensions readers care about. The dominance of “I read this because 2 guys are hot” works against such classifications and makes life harder for all but the indiscriminate reader.

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  29. Tasha
    May 24, 2011 @ 13:42:38

    @Jill Sorenson: Thank you for making this distinction! I think f/f and lesbian romance/erotica are different. They tend to be written differently and for different audiences; there’s a different sensibility at work in them. Also the readers want different things. Many readers of lesbian romance/erotica don’t want the MC to be involved with a man, much less read about a sexual encounter between them. And a lot of straight and bisexual women don’t necessarily identify with the characters in these books; there seem to be, at least in my opinion, a whole lot more “gold star” lesbians in romance/erotica than there are in RL.

    I’m personally very happy that there’s more quality bisexual fiction being written and published these days. I’m hoping that this will become more common, and not just menage fiction but fiction about characters (women as well as men) that are truly bisexual as well as monogamous.

    Sorry – this has got way OT.

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  30. Angela
    May 24, 2011 @ 14:11:31

    I’ll admit that I stayed away from m/m mostly because of the ‘where one male is good, two is better’ responses I heard when I asked some people why they read them. The other part was the difficulty of finding good stories that, I felt, realistically portrayed the relationships between two men.

    I’ve only just started to get into the genre, and I’m still finding it difficult to find the kind of stories I want. Like Sunita I don’t generally classify by heat level. Most of the time it doesn’t matter to me if there’s a lot of sex, or a little. What matters is if the it’s intricate to the story. I don’t like reading a sex scene just for the sake of reading one. And having them all lumped under erotica – well that’s a pretty useless tag to me.

    @Tasha: I’m confused by the last part of your comment – ‘bisexual as well as monogamous’? Being bisexual doesn’t mean you can’t be monogamous.

    I’d love to know where the bisexual characters are though, because (in my limited m/m experience) every male character that sleeps with both men and women is just gay in denial.

    @Jill Sorenson: One of these days I’m going to bug you about the f/f and lesbian romance that you really enjoyed so I can check it out!

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  31. DS
    May 24, 2011 @ 14:18:41

    I don’t think I have ever read a book tagged m/m that didn’t result in feeling disappointed. There was one that had a striking cover, a great title and ended up being the example that a friend and I use for the worst book every published. (It’s probably not, but it’s pretty bad).

    One of my main complaints about the m/m books I have read (a limited amount I admit, I’ve read a lot more GLBT fiction) is sloppy characterization of women. If I’m reading along and notice that all of the female characters are thinner than tissue paper then I’m not going any further. I’m interested in all the characters in a story, not just the ones with male genitalia.

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  32. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 14:25:19

    DS, I read mm/gay romance/ mystery/fantasy for the guys, however I definitely agree with you that paper thin characterization of women is a very wide spread in many books that I have read. In general because I read for the romance between the guys, I am not as dissapointed as you are, but sometimes I just want to say, please rather than write the women as you do, you would be better off not writing them at all. Then however we would have guys functioning in the bizarre artificial world and thats not my cup of tea either.

    Some books where I felt female characters were great:

    Interstitual (and two sequels) by Ann Sommerville.

    Dear Mr. President by Adam Fitzroy

    Dragon Streets by Jeff Pearce

    “The King’s tale” by Rowena Sudbury.

    I will think of more, but these are what comes to mind right away.

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  33. Tasha
    May 24, 2011 @ 14:27:25

    @Angela: That’s exactly my point. Yet so much “bisexual” fiction is actually menage.

    As far as what’s out there–in print, If You Follow Me comes to mind, as well as Alcestis; also Sub Rosa. These are primarily female POV. Krakow Melt is more male POV.

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  34. bekka
    May 24, 2011 @ 14:32:18

    @hapax:
    So, I’m sure there is a more nuanced answer in here somewhere, but I can’t really brain right now.

    Unlike m/m romance and fiction, I think f/f romance and fiction has been more under the radar of the censors for years. So while anything involving a m/m couple may be found in GLBT or erotica, f/f (WITHOUT explicit sex scenes) may be found in lit or YA fiction. “Landing” by Emma Donoghue, “Pages for You” by Sylvia Brownrigg, any Jeannette Winterson.

    There are also more traditionally written romance novels available and always have been, sold through specialty houses in the same way m/m romance novels always were. Just because m/m is “hot right now,” don’t mistake that its prevalence is so much greater.

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  35. Angela
    May 24, 2011 @ 14:37:17

    @Tasha: Ahh. Thanks Tasha, I thought I was misunderstanding something there :) And thank you for the recommendations, I’ll be checking those out!

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  36. Tasha
    May 24, 2011 @ 14:49:33

    @Bekka: I disagree with this. I’ve never seen books like Tales of the City, Maurice, Death in Venice, The Front Runner, anything by Mary Renault, or Robin and Ruby in the GLBT section. They’re shelved with the general fiction.

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  37. bekka
    May 24, 2011 @ 14:57:26

    @Tasha: This may then, too, vary widely depending on where you are. I was generalizing based on my experience, always a dangerous pasttime.

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  38. bekka
    May 24, 2011 @ 15:04:06

    @Tasha: This may then vary widely depending on where you are. I was generalizing based on my experience, always a dangerous pasttime.

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  39. Estara
    May 24, 2011 @ 15:13:08

    I like both hot and not-hot m/m.

    Books that have great storylines and great female characters, too (although the focus is on the m/m pairing) that I’ve read have been written by Tamara Allen and Ann Somerville. I especially like Somerville’s Darshian Tales, as they are also excellent epic fantasy – another favourite genre of mine.

    Very hot m/m, m/f and m/fm/ fantasy erotica with great storylines is the Phoenix Rising trilogy by Denise Rossetti – they actually were worth registering at Ellora’s Cave for, although I guess these days I could get them from ARe. I think I discovered those thanks to a DA review a few years back.

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  40. Kate McMurray
    May 24, 2011 @ 15:26:59

    I have a lot of complicated reasons for reading and writing m/m (so much of what Angie said, but more, too) and I’m also bugged that m/m books without explicit sex get tagged as erotica, and a lot of you have echoed my thoughts on the matter, so I won’t get into it too much here.

    On the other hand, explicit scenes and good writing/well-developed romance are not mutually exclusive and I can think of dozens of examples (and I’m not even saying that’s what’s being implied here, just felt like I should point it out). Really good sex scenes can do a lot to show the emotional connection between the characters, or even character growth and development, and, in romance anyway, they don’t exist just to arouse.

    It’s funny, when my first novel (an m/m romance) was published, a dear (straight male) friend of mine said, “But you’re not really into the whole two guys thing, are you?” He had no idea that the whole “2 are hotter!” phenomenon existed for women! I think generally that you can’t remove that from discussions of the genre.

    But at the end of the day, I think also that a satisfying answer to “Why do you read/write this genre?” is “Because I like it.”

    I’ve been a little disappointed with the few f/f novels I’ve read, but I have high hopes that it will attract some talented writers, too, and grow as a genre in the near future.

    Anyway. Great discussion! Thanks for letting me ramble. :-)

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  41. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 15:30:12

    Oh yes of course LOVE Darshian tales. I love Tamara Allen’s books, and yes she has some great side female characters, but I was thinking of women having more than episodic roles and I do not remember any of them in Tamara’s books? This is not a criticism at all, because I think her side characters are great and I do not think gay romance book is obligated to have more than episodic women characters or at all. Although now to think of it, yes, I guess in The Only Gold several women characters play more than episodic roles.
    You are right , Estara :)

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  42. Tamara Hogan
    May 24, 2011 @ 15:32:13

    Angela said:

    I’d love to know where the bisexual characters are though, because (in my limited m/m experience) every male character that sleeps with both men and women is just gay in denial.

    Angela, “Butterfly Tattoo” by Deidre Knight features a hero who identifies as bisexual. I thought it was a gorgeous book.

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  43. Trope Tuesday: stroke fiction vs romance | Josephine Myles
    May 24, 2011 @ 15:41:56

    [...] didn’t get a chance to write a proper Trope Tuesday post today, but I read this interesting blog post over on Dear Author about the dangers of emphasising the erotica aspect of m/m over the romance angle. I urge you to go [...]

  44. John
    May 24, 2011 @ 15:54:16

    I love and loathe m/m novels. I’m gay, so at least my ‘two men are hotter than one’ response has a more understandable base. No offense to anyone else, of course, but it’s like if a straight person reads an m/f romance. It’s not even a remote issue for that.

    I do like to read it for other reasons, though. I’ve read some really interesting and some really awful books (by men and women equally) that have made me see what a cool genre it is. Tamara Allen is admittedly the one that’s struck the most chords with me as a reader, but I did enjoy K.A.Mitchell (although she can use a lot of sex in a short page time, which doesn’t always work.) I also hated Andrew Gray with a major cheese fest. I mean, it’s like the regular romance genre. Varying degrees of heat and characterization just like anything else.

    My issue is with how people label it. I find myself tip-toeing around what I read because I don’t know what I want to read, and ALL m/m is categorized the same. It’s not just Amazon, but the publishers don’t really seem to differentiate between them, either. I have no idea if what I’m opening on my ereader is erotica or a sweat fade-to-black type romance like Whistling in the Dark. I like reading all kinds of m/m, but the distinction bothers me. Because I’m gay, I’m automatically too sexual to be like everyone else?

    No. I am not cool with that. It’s just like this time that a dear friend of mine said her mom was horrified when we went to see Rent a few years back because her 13 year old daughter was seeing GAY KISSING and other things on stage. I get that it has drugs and other things, but GAY KISSING? Really? To a gay guy? There’s no justification for that, because I bet dollars to doughnuts that she would have been fine if it was a guy and a girl. Even if it was an involuntary reaction, it’s not cool. There is no difference in explicitness because it’s two guys.

    If there is, then that’s a problem. Not mine, either. I really wish the publishers and booksellers would learn this. Eventually I will get jaded and I will not be buying anything that I don’t know the label of right away on Amazon.

    The bright side is that m/m on the YA front is a good blend. The few books that I’ve read ranged in hotness like adult books, but the nice thing is that they aren’t rated as such. I read one where a character gave a vague description of giving another a blowjob at one point and nothing in the description pointed it out as a sexually perverse thing. Maybe there’s something to learn from that.

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  45. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 16:08:41

    Jone,
    I think warnings are needed for some things, be it gay romance or straight romance, like personally I always want to see the warnings for rape, but absolutely when I see the warning “this book contains what some people may find objectionable….. blah, blah and male/male sexual practices”, that makes me cringe and big time. I am yet to see the warning on straight romance (granted I do not read too much of it, but I now do read some) which says ” what some people find objectionable – male/female sexual practices”. Somehow I doubt that such warnings exist. I mean, warn for kinks, warn for hardcore BDSM, but simply for two guys having sex???

    JMO of course.

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  46. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 16:09:19

    Sorry John for misspelling your name, oy.

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  47. LG
    May 24, 2011 @ 16:23:17

    @Sirius: Samhain has something like what you’re talking about. Each of their books has a short little “warning” that basically lists things that some people might find objectionable (one of my recent buys had a warning about “dubious consent”), while others might see some of the things listed as part of the book’s appeal. The warnings will also tell you if what you’re getting is explict or more gentle. I appreciate these, and wish more publishers did the same.

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  48. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 16:26:07

    LG, yes I know, Samhain has the warnings, Amber Allure does, some others too, I like warnings in general, I also agree that some warnings are other people cup of tea, but I just do not see how the warning for “male/male sexual practices” can be appreciated, you know?

    I am talking about one very specific warning, thats all. This one feels discriminatory to me, unless there is a similar warning on het romances that I missed.

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  49. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 16:33:11

    Sorry for posting multiple posts. But I just wanted to add that before anybody asks how one would recognize gay romances without such warning, if one does not want to read them, there are always blurbs, right? I all for blurbs being very clear, what the book is all about, just not issue the *warning* in that form IMO. You know, I always felt that Dreamspinner’s position on not warning enough for kinks is annoying, but now I can see their POV much better, at least they do not warn for “male/male sexual practices”.

    So, I would like some warnings, but not this one, thats all.

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  50. LG
    May 24, 2011 @ 16:41:01

    @Sirius: I’m not sure I understand – Samhain doesn’t just have m/m, and they include warnings for ALL books, not just m/m. I’m looking at a warning for a m/f contemporary romance right now that mentions BDSM and mild kink. Now, if I wanted more detail, maybe the exerpt or reviews would help, but that includes a little to go by. The m/m warnings vary widely and don’t just say “contains male/male sexual practices.”

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  51. Sunita
    May 24, 2011 @ 16:41:02

    I have no idea if what I’m opening on my ereader is erotica or a sweat fade-to-black type romance like Whistling in the Dark. I like reading all kinds of m/m, but the distinction bothers me. Because I’m gay, I’m automatically too sexual to be like everyone else?

    John, thanks for summing up in two three sentences what I took 1000 words to say. This is exactly the problem. None of us can tell what is inside the cover/file because it’s all grouped in the same category, the category of “men who sleep with other men” regardless of how that behavior is portrayed on the page. It’s not even your sexuality, in a sense, because sexuality is a complex and interesting characteristic of an individual. This is strictly about whether one activity occurs, in any form, within the book.

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  52. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 16:47:15

    LG,I realize that Samhain warns for other things in their mm and m/f stuff, what I am disagreeing with is this *one* warning, I am fine with their other warnings, UNLESS in their m/f stuff they also put on the warning ” contains the stuff that some people find objectionable – male/female sexual practices”.

    Do they put such a warning? I am not being sarcastic, I am very familiar with their warnings on mm but not on m/f.

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  53. Jill Sorenson
    May 24, 2011 @ 16:49:19

    @hapax: I really enjoyed Radclyffe’s Innocent Hearts. It’s a sweet Western, very romantic and not explicit.

    @Tasha: You’re welcome. The reason I brought it up (ff vs lesbian) is that the distinction seems less important to mm readers. Or maybe the differences aren’t as clear? The only mm books I’ve read were by Sean Kennedy (a gay male author) and LB Gregg (female author). Both were very good. Gregg was much more explicit, but I wouldn’t say that her characters were inauthentic or…overly eroticized, if that makes sense.

    Anyway, is there a difference between mm and gay romance? What would Tamara Allen say she’s writing? Does it matter to you, @John: ?

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  54. Jill Sorenson
    May 24, 2011 @ 17:16:06

    @Moriah Jovan: Good point. I’ve heard that “hot” f/m sells better than erotic, but maybe that’s just print and old news. At any rate, I think m/m is being labeled erotica partly because a lot of it IS explicit. There’s also a novelty element to this kind of material, sort of like those “romances” between a woman and her 8 husbands (or whatever). People don’t take books like that seriously.

    I hope that makes sense. I’m under the weather today and this is a difficult subject. I’m having trouble just deciding whether to write m/m mm or MM.

    Before I forget in my sick haze, let me add that I agree that non-explicit MM romance shouldn’t be labeled erotica.

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  55. Angie
    May 24, 2011 @ 18:05:29

    @Sirius: I knew that bit was going to get squawked. :) Yes, there was romantic gay fiction before the last few years, definitely, but (with the caveat that I haven’t read extensively there, just basing this on my own experience of the older stuff) there’s a difference. It feels different to me when I’m reading the older stuff. It’s not just the fact of them being romance or not being romance, but there’s a different feel to them.

    Maybe it’s just era, since the older het romances feel different too? But I can say with some assurance (and watch, someone’s going to jump on my for this now, LOL!) that het romance, as the genre we know today, started in the 70s, and the fact that there absolutely were het romances written well before that, by centuries, doesn’t change that. The genre came together and started forming its own mass of rules and expectations and sensibilities at that time. It’s definitely evolved since then, but there’s a clear mass of books changing together. Maybe it’s a critical mass thing? M/m romances weren’t being published in any significant numbers until a few years ago, so maybe it’s that mass effect, of books and authors and readers all interacting and responding to one another that’s made a difference, and made this latest genre feel distinct to me.

    I don’t know, it’s frustrating having this concept in my head and being unable to articulate it clearly. :P

    Angie

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  56. DS
    May 24, 2011 @ 18:09:53

    @Sirius: Thanks for the list of authors. I’ve read several works by Ann Somerville but for some reason I didn’t think of her when thinking about the books tagged m/m that I have read. I’m trying to think of anyone else whose work I would buy without investigation. Ginn Hale, I like her books– do they count as m/m?

    I’m in the group who don’t mind raunchy sex — I don’t think many people could out raunch John Rechy’s Sexual Outlaw– but I also don’t mind sweet or nonexplicit. However don’t make me stop and try to figure out if someone or several someones can actually get in the position described.That was another problem with the Really Bad M/M Book.

    (OT, I just saw Ginn Hale was doing something strange with a subscription novel– 10 parts released one a month. Not the way I like to read books so would wait for them all to be released before buying if I bout at all. I think pricing each section at $3.99 is self defeating. I would pay $39.90 only for a special print edition of a book I loved.)

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  57. Angie
    May 24, 2011 @ 18:59:05

    @hapax: Thanks so much for your kind words. :) I wish there were a paperback version of HM for you to buy, but I’m not self-pubbing; I’m with one of the small specialty presses, which does some paperback but is primarily electronic. My publisher didn’t choose to bring my book out in paperback, so at this point it’s e-book or nothing, unfortunately.

    @Sunita: No, you’re definitely not the norm. :) But then, I doubt anyone contributing to comments here would be. Note that there’s more I could’ve said; I was getting tl;dr here too, and limited myself to the two major issues. I might’ve been able to get tl even for you if I’d gone for it, who knows? :D

    I’ve seen authors getting snarked for various genres too, BTW, including children’s books. [nod] Lit snobs think anything that’s not Literary Fiction is unworthy, and the smirky “When are you going to stop wasting your time/talent on X?” question, where X might be children’s books or mysteries or SF or romance (of any sort) or anything that’s not highbrow literature always makes me want to smack someone. :/

    @Tamara: Like Sirius, I don’t understand why some of my books are shelved in Erotica either. I get that Amazon (and Fictionwise, and ARe) might think this is how readers find GLBT romances, but I disagree. It’s certainly not how I find gay romances, by going into Erotica and then looking for the gay subshelf.

    I think they do it because it lets them hide their gay fiction. Notice that if you go to, say, Fictionwise, and look at their lefthand bar where they have a genre list, GLBT isn’t there, not even GLBT nonfiction. Forgetting about romances for a minute, where would I go if I were looking for a copy of And the Band Played On, which certainly isn’t any kind of romance? Are they that ashamed of the fact that they carry books with gay characters, or about gay history or of gay interest?

    Erotica is the only fiction category that has clickable subcategories, as though they’re stuffing as much as possible under that semi-innocuous label. All the stuff the ultra-conservatives might object to can be hidden under Erotica, where they’ll know not to go, lest the genre category name sully their eyes, or something. Or so Fictionwise seems to think. Fantasy and Dark Fantasy are separate genres, but Het Romance and GLBT Romance couldn’t be separated out? Note that Multicultural/Interracial is under Erotica too; I guess people of color don’t have romances either, they just fuck. [sigh]

    And Fictionwise isn’t the only vendor that does this; their category set-up is just presented in a way that makes the skeeviness clear; you don’t really have to go digging for it.

    Sorry for putting this rant here under your name. I’m not mad at you, I just want to kick some of these vendors in the ass. :/

    @Kate McMurray: I agree that sex can be integral to the plot, and used well to show character or develop the relationship. [nod] Some comments above were talking about how they sort their m/m; I mentally sort mine between the books where all the sex pulls its weight in the book, and the books where all or most of the sex is stuck on with duct tape just for the purpose of having more sex. I’d just as soon not read the latter, but there’s no way to tell ahead of time which type you’re going to get.

    @Sirius: I agree completely that a warning for m/m sexual practices is offensive. It’s like it’s being grouped in with all the other stuff that’s warned for — rape and pedophilia and gay sex and violence and torture. Wow, lovely. :/

    Angie, trying to group things together this time

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  58. John
    May 24, 2011 @ 21:27:32

    @Sirius: You hit the nail on the head. Two people having average sex without kinks should not need a warning. If you can’t tell that it’s a romance with two guys based on the blurb, cover, and first few pages, then you have a problem. They don’t warn for Christian romances even though someone could potentially find that offensive, so why warn about the coupling of it? I could understand menage because it’s considered a kink, but even that could be offensive to someone in a polyamouric relationship.

    I think the problem is that they don’t see how it can be offensive to a portion of the intended audience.

    @Jill Sorenson: I definitely think there is a difference if by m/m you mean erotic romance. Because m/m is an all-purpose label at this point to me that just says what coupling is in the novel. Erotica, though, I think is different from regular gay romance. Just like erotica is different from romance on this end. Erotica is meant to both titillate with sex scenes that are more numerous than average and/or more focal to the story than in an average romance. Sex is obviously something that should be important to any story, but in erotica the sex is often a bigger place for the characters to act out emotions, desires, and conflicts than in a regular romance novel that uses it with romantic tension leading up to the sex and in between sex scenes.

    That’s just my personal take on it, though. I’m obviously not an expert on either genre. YA doesn’t have an erotic subset. Tamara Allen…hm. Well, I’d like to think she would just say she writes romance. Not erotica. Whistling in the Dark had some kissing and all the sex was fade-to-black. That’s definitely not erotica. I think that matters to me because A.) if I go in wanting an erotica and get a romance or vice versa I will be disappointed and B.) the label distinction is made in m/f romance, so why shouldn’t it be made in m/m romance?

    The problem is that without the label distinction everything is getting put under erotica, which is bad for me as a reader (especially one who is slightly younger and may not want an erotic novel that may not be to my age group.) and bad for my identity as a gay man. Because what is that lack of a label – except for the assumed erotica – telling me? It’s telling me that I’m a sexual deviant and deserve to be treated as such because I love and have sex with another man instead of with a woman.

    Obviously it’s not a direct telling of that, but it implies it. I think that’s problem enough.

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  59. Sunita
    May 24, 2011 @ 21:35:34

    @DS:

    (OT, I just saw Ginn Hale was doing something strange with a subscription novel– 10 parts released one a month. Not the way I like to read books so would wait for them all to be released before buying if I bout at all. I think pricing each section at $3.99 is self defeating. I would pay $39.90 only for a special print edition of a book I loved.)

    Yes, The Rifter is a serialized novel. She wrote it as a trilogy, but her editor at Blind Eye Books suggested releasing it as a serial. One per month at $3.99 or buy the subscription for $29.95. I bought the first one, read it, and then promptly bought the whole thing. You have to be willing to go with the serial format; I figured what the heck, it’s back to Dickens/Trollope, why not? I wrote about why I was willing to try a serialized novel here: http://vacuousminx.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/revisiting-the-pleasures-of-the-serialized-novel-with-ginn-hales-the-rifter/

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  60. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 21:39:33

    @Sunita:

    I am still fighting with myself Sunita, I thought I was patient enough to wait till all the book is out, because I do not want to suffer the cliffhangers, but I love her work so much that it is VERY hard.

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  61. Sunita
    May 24, 2011 @ 21:44:35

    @Sirius: That’s understandable! It’s expensive, and there’s a lot of delayed gratification involved. I was just intrigued by the idea and wanted to support the experiment (plus I really liked the first part and wanted to see where it went).

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  62. Sirius
    May 24, 2011 @ 21:48:12

    @Sunita: Oh I will pay for her work, so far Wicked Gentlemen, Lord of the White Hell, all her shorter stories were amazing IMO, so even if Rifter is expensive, for me it is worth it, now delayed gratification is a different story. I have a feeling I will cave in soon :)

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  63. jmc
    May 24, 2011 @ 22:34:47

    Chiming in, although I don’t have anything really original to contribute.

    I’ve long found the “erotic” label on LGBT fiction to be peculiar. Some of my favorite m/m or gay romance reads are light on the sex (Tigers & Devils, frex). Back when I shopped at fictionwise, I ended up paging through the “erotic” section of releases for new m/m books. Eventually I got tired of it and ended up buying direct from publishers as their websites became more userfriendly.

    On those disclaimers about gay sex, I find them bizarre in general. Do publishers put warnings or disclaimers on m/f erotic romance that includes either a lot of sex or kinky sex? No? Then why include a warning for gay sex, especially if it’s vanilla? (FWIW, there is one particular publisher whose disclaimer I find offensive and ridiculous. Another publisher gives a warning in a jokey way that is marginally less off-putting to me.)

    M/m romance vs. gay romance, what’s the difference? The difference is vague and hard to define (for me), based mostly on content but also potential audience, author, and publisher, often in a “know it when you see it” kind of way. For instance, I would label Tigers & Devils as gay romance rather than m/m. And some of Lanyon’s work falls into m/m for me, while other books or novellas do not.

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  64. Sunita
    May 24, 2011 @ 23:56:43

    @jmc:

    M/m romance vs. gay romance, what’s the difference? The difference is vague and hard to define (for me), based mostly on content but also potential audience, author, and publisher, often in a “know it when you see it” kind of way. For instance, I would label Tigers & Devils as gay romance rather than m/m. And some of Lanyon’s work falls into m/m for me, while other books or novellas do not.

    I think you and I would probably have much the same way of defining it, but who knows how many would agree with us. I go back and forth about terminology, using both gay romance and m/m. Here I just kept to one for consistency.

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  65. Kaetrin
    May 25, 2011 @ 00:52:10

    I don’t assume m/m romance is all erotica and I’d prefer the labelling on books to be more accurate in general. But, can I just add that when I started reading m/m fiction, I was, well… curious. I didn’t know anything about gay relationships and very little about gay sex. I am a romance lover and I find men attractive. I enjoy reading m/m romance – I can understand and appreciate the attraction to each main character in a way I cannot with m/f fiction, (even though I read proportionally more m/f). That’s not really very different than “2 guys are better than 1″ I don’t suppose, but I’m not ashamed of it. I guess I kind of assume that’s what people mean when they say that, so I don’t get offended or bothered by people using that as their excuse for reading m/m.

    With apologies in advance for my previous misunderstanding of gay relationships, before I started reading m/m, I (erroneously) thought that monogamous gay relationships were very much the exception. All I really “knew” (duh) was about George Michael in the public toilets and the media stereotype of promiscuity and a (very) little about the Sydney Mardi Gras. Once I started reading m/m romance, I began to realise my error and it has actually made me a more tolerant and accepting person overall I think. I am aware of course that there is m/m promiscuity – just as there is m/f promiscuity – but I didn’t know that gay men were just as likely as me to want a HEA with the person they loved. It just hadn’t been in my orbit before. Looking back now, it’s quite embarrassing (and sad) to admit how ignorant I was. I guess the point I am trying to make is that reading m/m romance, even the more explicit of the genre, actually led me away from the idea that 2 men together is only titillating. I think that even if people start reading m/m romance for the titillation, if they read the good stuff they might find they stay with it for other reasons.

    @ Sunita – KA Mitchell’s Regularly Scheduled Life is one of my favourites too. It’s between that and No Souvenirs – I keep changing my mind! :)

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  66. Sarah Frantz
    May 25, 2011 @ 07:29:55

    Haven’t read the comments yet, but I want to say that 2XY > 1XY for me precisely for the emotional content. While I enjoy stroke fiction (who doesn’t?), I read romance in general for the emotional content. Even fictional sex, for me, is only hot when backed by emotions or when breaking major taboos for the characters. So I read m/m romance for the same reasons I read m/f romance — for the emotional content — but I’m always and have always been all about the romance hero. I care very little about the heroine; I like watching the hero fall in love. So m/m > m/f for that reason for me, BECAUSE of the emotional content.

    Alex Beecroft’s FALSE COLORS, after all, has one kiss and one fade-to-black sex scene in it and it’s still one of the best *romances* I’ve ever read because of the emotional vulnerability of the two male leads.

    Now off to read the comments.

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  67. LVLMLeah
    May 25, 2011 @ 08:15:35

    I’m one of those straight readers who prefers f/f or lesbian over m/m. When I think of one hot male, two makes me feel exhausted. And frankly, I cannot identify with male characters. So if there are two, there’s no female to contrast with to see really what the man is about in relation to a person I can relate to. Him being with another man means nothing to me on an emotional level. So there are many reader takes on these things.

    I do read m/m and there are some m/m authors whom I love, so I get it on some level. It just doesn’t float my boat in the same way f/f does.

    That said, I came across this short article a couple of years ago and maybe it just boils down to science and biology:

    Gay Men and Straight Women Share Brain Detail

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/06/16/us-brain-gay-idUSL1635102020080616

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  68. Josh Lanyon
    May 25, 2011 @ 10:59:37

    My impression is that m/m books with explicit content far outsell the sweet stories. Straight female readers are demanding a bit of stroke with their m/m, so let’s not pretend that the sexual titillation factor isn’t important. Like it or not, “two guys are twice as hot!” is the number one reason m/m romance is popular.

    I don’t think that’s necessarily true. To my bemusement, I seem to be one of the best selling m/m authors out here, but I doubt that anyone is reading me for the scorchin’ hot sex scenes.

    I don’t think it’s possible to lump all m/m readers into one category any more than it’s possible to lump all romance readers into one category. The consistent refrain in my fan mail is props for writing plot over porn and for developing emotional content versus graphic sex scenes.

    Do I appeal to the average m/m reader? I don’t think there IS an average m/m reader. But I can safely say that I was writing and publishing m/m many years before m/m was cool. And I figure I’ll still be writing and publishing long after we’ve stopped being the flavor-kink du jour.

    One interesting thing (to me) is that while it’s true a year or so ago my readership was predominately female, that all changed with December and the Kindle, Nook, etc. becoming the gift of choice for so many. My reader mail is now back to half and half, and you might be surprised to hear that the message from male readers is consistently…thank God you’re writing about more than two hot guys in the sack.

    Great essay, Sunita. Thanks for opening the discussion.

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  69. Josh Lanyon
    May 25, 2011 @ 11:14:11

    By the way, I don’t think there is any “wrong” reason to read m/m romance, and it’s certainly okay to read it for the sex scenes if that’s what you like best about romance novels. It’s just that I get tired — really tired — of these works being classified across the board as porn or erotica.

    I think they are more appropriately classified as romance novels, and romance novels break down into sub-classifications like sweet and erotic and so on.

    I’d also really like to get away from the idea that you can’t sell these books if you don’t pack them full of sex scenes. Carina Press, Samhain, and even Loose Id have been very cooperative about not insisting on lots of sex for the sake of sex.

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  70. Aleksandr Voinov
    May 25, 2011 @ 11:35:23

    Seconding Josh with regards to Carina. For my next novel, they made us take out sex scenes that didn’t add enough to the story to make them earn their keep. Very refreshing.

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  71. Jill Sorenson
    May 25, 2011 @ 12:32:59

    I wasn’t trying to lump readers together or make assumptions about the genre. I was just wondering (and not very coherently) if guy-on-guy erotic material as titillation should be called something different than gay romance. Instead everything from a raunchy gay-for-you threesome to a sweet, nuanced love story is “lumped in” if you will to m/m. Which is the whole point of this post. I guess what I’m asking is–how do we define these variations within the genre, by heat level or subject sensitivity or something else?

    I mean, I see a clear difference between lesbian romance and f/f. Am I “doing it wrong” by making this distinction? Perhaps because non-erotic f/f doesn’t really exist, my feeling is that sexual titillation is a part of f/f.

    Without explicit sex, is it m/m? Or is it a sweet gay romance?

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  72. Sharita Lira
    May 25, 2011 @ 12:45:03

    When I first began writing I had that thought. Two men better than one…RAWR.

    Now, I think the thing I love about m/m or gay romance, gay fiction, is the difference and the refreshing change of something other than the vanilla.

    Its already been said about how its fairly new. What makes me happy is creating a love story with the “against all odds” plot.

    Sure there are odds in a hetero relationship but so much more in a gay one. If thats the focus.

    However, for those that write gay fiction with little erotica do need to have a category to themselves. It’s a big misconception for the reader to go on a site, that tags all m/m as erotica and find there is little to no erotica in it.

    Thats what they expect and yet, they get more plot with little sex which is an injustice to the reader and author.

    Why can’t pubs just put the category of gay fiction on their sites and give it all the sub categories as they do in hetero? Why is this so much of an issue?

    Especially in epubs who are trying to be cutting edge. Big time NY won’t even look at gay fiction most of the time. Why can’t the epubs make it simple for the author and its readers?

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  73. Josh Lanyon
    May 25, 2011 @ 12:51:25

    I think yours is a reasonable question, Jill. And you’re not alone in your wondering.

    I personally think that m/m fiction is romantic fiction. Not erotic, necessarily — although this certainly predominates — but romantic in sensibility and content. It is always about emotions and feelings and love, no matter how sexy or not sexy it is.

    And I have no problem with that. I do not in any way resent being categorized as romance, whether the framework I’m writing in is mystery or adventure or fantasy or…whatever. Because I feel that my romantic subplots are intrinsic to my stories. Even when they are merely subplots.

    But I think that when m/m is automatically equated with erotica it not only marginalizes us…it’s false advertising.

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  74. Josh Lanyon
    May 25, 2011 @ 12:54:22

    @Sharita Lira:

    Exactly!

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  75. Sunita
    May 25, 2011 @ 14:19:13

    When I first discovered the online (straight) romance community I was confused by terminology. For example, Regency v. European historical made no sense to me until I read some of the latter. I still don’t understand all the distinctions made under the label of Fantasy in romance, but that’s mostly because I don’t read much of it.

    Gay fiction containing a romantic storyline has been around for a long time, but the m/m romance genre seems more recent, certainly the identification of such a genre is more recent. If authors, readers, and publishers could develop a set of categories, I think everyone would be better off. They could adopt those used in straight romance or introduce new ones, but please, no wacky names, I’m begging you.

    I like the distinctions between romance, erotic romance, erotica, and PwP, but others may prefer other distinctions. And I think heat ratings are probably useful too, since many readers sort according to that dimension. I don’t care about a non-HEA v. HFN v. HEA ending, but I’m probably in a minority.

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  76. Sirius
    May 25, 2011 @ 14:44:59

    @Jill Sorenson: I have a feeling that in the future mm may spread out into subgenres even more than it is now, romantic mysteries, romantic fantasy, scifi, historical, etc, however I think that distinction between mm and gay romance may always be subjective, on the case by case basis, know when I see it, whatever definitions commenters came up. I mean, if for you titillation element is what divides mm and gay romance, sure, I can see that as definition that makes sense, but to me I never thought that this is where the divide would lie. I more often saw the suggestions that gay romance is what LGBT people write about LGBT people and mm is what straight writers write about LGBT people, regardless whether it is super hot or not, and I don’t know if I am completely comfortable with it either. I mean, for me, I am not completely comfortable with it for me, not for anybody else of course.

    Because to go back say to Tamara Allen’s books – I just see no titillation element in her works, at all, I see sweet love story, romance, in her latest The Only Gold I saw couple (or one? or three? Sorry as I said I can never remember the number of sex scenes, if there is more than one) very NON explicit intimate moments, but surely nowhere near what I would classify as even close to being an erotic romance. But as far as I believe (I apologise if I am wrong) Tamara is a straight woman, so does that makes her works mm?

    I am thinking now actually, and I would say that probably for me, gay romance (in my head I mean) means just higher quality works (again thats what I may qualify as the higher quality in my head only)? I have read plenty of works that are classified mm, which I would have classified as gay romance on that basis, simply because the characters there are well portrayed IMO. But I may rethink it tomorrow :)

    Having said that, I think I am very much with Sunita in a sense that what I REALLY want to see is the distinction between romance, erotical romance, erotica and PWP, and I really do not care whether the other label is mm or gay romance, because this distinction is the one I would care more about it.

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  77. G. J. Patterson
    May 25, 2011 @ 15:45:50

    While there should definitely be a place for LGBT erotica, it is wrong to classify all LGBT light fiction as erotic. When this happens it causes confusion for the reader and frustrates the writer. People read works of all kinds for different reasons – and titillation is only one of them. As a LGBT writer and activist I get tired of people who seem to see all gay writers as purveyors of erotica. Josh is so right in his remarks.

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  78. Patty
    May 25, 2011 @ 18:42:28

    I don’t have anything new to add that other readers and authors haven’t already said. I believe very strongly that authors and readers are being short-changed by classifying romantic novels as erotica regardless of whether the protagonists are m/m or f/f. Romance is romance. A friend of mine says that we fall in love with the person, not the gender. Romantic novels should be categorized according to heat levels as other m/f novels are. Erotica has its own set of parameters.

    I would like to see other literary review sites, such as Romantic Times, include a sub-category for LGBTQ romantic fiction. Authors, too many to name, but including Josh Lanyon, Harper Fox, Sean Kennedy, Charlie Cochrane, and Tamara Allen, should be recognized and lauded for their skill and brilliant writing.

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  79. hapax
    May 27, 2011 @ 08:07:31

    I don’t know if anyone’s still reading this thread, but I thought I’d mention that I went out and purchased all sorts of books that came up on it.

    Among them were Tamara Allen’s books. When they arrived yesterday I was surprised and delighted to recognize one of them as a “Dear Author: First Page” submission that had utterly charmed and intrigued me, to the point of posting (I think) “Oh, I want to read the rest!”

    Well, now I CAN read the rest. Yay for DA!

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  80. Jane
    May 27, 2011 @ 08:12:15

    @hapax- that is very cool! Thanks for sharing.

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  81. Sunita
    May 27, 2011 @ 08:37:53

    @hapax: I’m so glad you found the conversation helpful. And how fun to see a First Page in its final form! It’s always nice to know when one of those gets published, so thanks much.

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  82. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Lead on, linkity, lead on
    May 27, 2011 @ 19:09:47

    [...] Sunita has a great post at Dear Author about m/m romance and how it’s nearly always classified…. [...]

  83. Jay Rookwood
    May 28, 2011 @ 04:54:55

    @Josh Lanyon:

    That it is false advertising to classify all M/M fiction as erotica, irrespective of the amount or even presence of explicit content, is an important point to make. Firstly because in many jurisdictions false advertising is illegal, and secondly because there are other laws which may also apply – laws banning discrimination against LGBT people in goods & services, for example.

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  84. \R9-
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 12:45:14

    Okay–hate to say this, but I think guy on guy is hot. I don’t know why. It turns me on. But, a lot of things turn me on that aren’t fair or at all politic to say.

    Next–it takes the politics out of it? What the hell are you talking about? Massive oppression. Fear of coming out. Fear of gay bashing. In earlier times, fear of death. No ability to marry. . . . how long do I have to go on about politics. And it isn’t like guys don’t have politicking between the two men or women either. A lot the same as male and female, some completely different.

    I have a fusion fantasy book, Rebirth, coming out in the next month–meaning I use fantasy but other genres, including romance. As with all my books, I toned down the sex in the end for my publisher, but generally I do not flinch from honest sexuality.

    Homosexuality–male–is a large part of this book and another I am working on, Incarnate. I’m a little worried how the gay community will receive it, since I am a straight girl, though I grew up with gay and lesbian people in my life since near the beginning. I didn’t ask for these characters to be gay. When I was writing their character work ups, they told me.

    I treat these relationships like any other I have written. Yes, there are differences in acceptance sometimes, and confusion. But their personalities run their relationships, just like any other characters or situations. I feel protective of my characters, and their careful, character driven relationships.

    I realize I don’t write romance. Fantasy has fewer rules than romance, and fusion fantasy has fewer rules than that. I understand that since the new rules haven’t crashed down yet, m/m romance has more freedom.

    My publisher is putting me out as fantasy, but I still do wonder where my book will end up in a bookstore. I don’t want it in erotica or even gay/lesbian areas. My books are not either. They are fantasy that happen to have gay and lesbian characters. I find everything ending up in erotica or gay and lesbian offensive not just to the book or me but to the LGBT community. They don’t need any more pigeon holing.

    I pray that people writing m/m romance will honor the characters with as much or more character development and drives, especially those of you, and me, who are not actually gay men. For this sub genre to exist so openly and successfully is a mark of progress. Please, publishers, do not ruin this by where you shelve a book. Writers, honor the vulnerability, the character, the scraping away of all stereotypes with an even more gentle hand.

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  85. Feminism in romance – annotated notes
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 20:42:21

    [...] All m/m fiction is not created equal, Sunita argues that we ought to distinguish between m/m romance and m/m erotica because the failure [...]

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  87. Peter Richardson
    Sep 11, 2012 @ 12:31:40

    This a fascinating discussion. I find validity and insight in almost all comments . I approach it from a different perspective. I am a gay leatherman, a Top and BDSM is core to my relationships and to my life. I love good stroke fiction. It matters not a bit if this stroke fiction is written by women or by men. I expect stroke fiction to be as well written style ise as romance, dram, thriller or any otherr genre of writing. I like good grammar, I like good style and not too many typos. I don’t like the sex to be too formulaic. I like drama, tension, excitement, building up to n encounter and I like the writing to be sexually arousing. I am capable of romance, love and the “mushy side” but I must admit that as a gay man I define and identify as a sexual being and sometime, just as in real life, I am looking to cruise for uninhibited, uninvolved, no strongs attached play. I don’t need to always love the men I have sex with. Let me also admit that it is the bodies and appendages which excite me. I would love to have a hardcore, hard sex and nasty sex classification. I also love non stroke fiction but I ove my one handed books, they affirm and celebrate gay male sexuality. I appreciate and I admire the women and the men who will unashamedly and joyfully celebrate the dynamic the powerful and even the taboo like man on man sex with plenty of leather and power play on top. I can read read great literature, I can read mainstream literary fiction but, I have to admit as a carnal and sexually motivated gay male I wnat to read and be aroused by men consenting together and even when the issue of consent is is ambiguous. As long as the writing is true and credible and as long as the writer is writing from her or his libido, then I am generally satisfied. For those who love romance, erotica, subtlety and the merely suggestive, good for you but I need stroke fiction and I love it when it is well written. Many women write on gay male sex imaginatively, hotly and with inspiration, regardless of vanilla or non vanilla. I know when the writer is feeling hot when they are writing and then the writing is true.

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  88. A Link Around to Thoughtful Things « Leta Blake
    Oct 08, 2012 @ 11:03:12

    [...] And, really, this is a pretty great piece on m/m fiction and the various issues around writing and reading it. Though, really, the most interesting aspect are the comments. I think in this case the comments > [...]

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