July 26, 2014

Straight Women/Gay Romance

Posted on 08. Jun, 2010 by in Features, Romance

Like everyone else in America, I’m unemployed. But the devil finds work for idle hands and recently while cruising on Facebook I clicked on a sexy little icon that linked me to the erotic world of male/male (M/M) romance fiction. Just what the unemployed masses need. You can tell a lot about these books by their covers. Hot bare-chested studs have replaced the bodice-ripped heroines of traditional women’s romance, but the plot lines remain much the same; as do, surprisingly, the audience and the writers—straight women. Josh Lanyon, author of the popular Adrien English M/M mystery series, says, “The antecedents of M/M romance are fan fiction, and fan fiction is dominated by women.” In Lanyon’s magisterial Man, Oh, Man! Writing M/M Fiction for Kinks and Ca$h (MLR Press, 2008), he explains that fan or slash fan fiction is a subgenre of traditional women’s romance that involves male/male (hence the name, slash) pairings of characters borrowed from other fictional sources, such as Kirk and Spock from Star Trek, or celebrity personalities, and he writes, “Men have never been a huge part of the slash fandom.” Author and publisher Laura Baumbach of MLR (ManLoveRomance) Press says that she started out writing slash fan fiction. She says, “I moved into original characters when a publisher of my fan fiction had a distributor ask for more of my work.” She opened her own publishing house when readers wanted to see her M/M romance work in both print and e-book form. She says, “[Print publishers] would take gay fiction but not erotic romance and e-books didn’t want to invest heavily in print. They have all changed their minds now.” Baumbach says that though women make up the bulk, her readership does include “individual gay men looking for a few hours of enjoyment immersed in a fantasy romance about love, lust, and happily ever after. All the same reasons that make romance readers of mainstream titles tip the scales to give romance 53% of the market in books sold each year.”

Treva Harte, editor-in-chief at Loose Id, a major M/M fiction publisher, says, “We don’t consider ourselves necessarily a ‘women’s’ romance publisher. While many women do buy our books, Loose Id publishes erotic romance, and our titles appeal to readers of both genders and many sexual orientations. However, yes, many of our female customers purchase books that feature gay men as protagonists.” Although it would seem like gay male readers would be an obvious untapped market for M/M romance, John Scognamiglio of Kensington Press is quoted by Lanyon as saying, “It’s two different audiences. Readers who are reading M/M fiction aren’t reading gay fiction. It’s two different types of books.” Lanyon says there is “a philosophical divide over whether M/M romance is in fact ‘gay’ romance. Personally, I don’t think it’s always the same thing.” In Man, Oh, Man! Lanyon argues that M/M romance presents “a more sentimental and romantic approach to love and sex than you might find in a gay romance novel.”  As hot and heavy as some M/M romance sex gets, the bottom line is that it is predominately written by women for women. He quotes Scott&Scott (Scott Pomfret and Scott Whittier), authors of the Romentics series of gay romance novels, “Perhaps they are writing M/M sex correctly physically but portraying it emotionally the way a woman would feel.” Likewise, Treva Harte of Loose Id told Lanyon, “I like M/M stories to have a more male POV, even if much of what we get is still female fantasy.” Why do straight women like to read gay erotica?  One can see straight men getting off on pseudo-lesbian porn because they fantasize about protruding into the scene, but M/M erotica is about gay sex, pure and simple, not bisexual three-ways.  The happily ever after is two men in love.  For Laura Baumbach of MLR Press it’s obvious: “One man is good, two are better. Hotter, more fascinating to women who read this genre.” While Lanyon admits in Man, Oh, Man! that M/M protagonists are very much a female fantasy and that “To write successful romance fiction, you have to tap into the reader’s fantasies,” still he argues, “There’s a great deal to appeal to gay male readers in M/M fiction.”  Lanyon says, “After all the common complaint about porn (assuming you’re a guy who has a complaint) is the lack of plot or character development, and what M/M fiction attempts to do—even the worst M/M fiction—is remedy that.”  He says, “M/M fiction is all about the relationships.”  Lanyon says, “The romantic relationship between the two male protagonists is going to be of paramount importance.”  Lanyon quotes veteran gay writer Victor J. Banis, author of the pulp classic “The Man from C.A.M.P.,” complaining, “We have the artsy fartsy books (read, dreary) which leaves me snoring, and we have the hard core erotica, which has about as much story value as a Wheaties box.  And almost nothing in between.” Another reason Lanyon believes that gay male readers have yet to make up a significant amount of the M/M romance readership is because men still prefer to buy print books and much of M/M fiction is e-published. Laura Baumbach says that even though MLR’s titles support print sales, their e-book sales far outweigh print sales. The major reason, apart from convenience, is privacy: “You don’t have to face a smirking cashier to buy an e-book,” she says. Lanyon points out that it is still transgressive for a woman to “out” herself as a reader of traditional women’s romance fiction, let alone M/M erotic romance. Lanyon says, “This is a subgenre that came into its own because the technology was there to feed a niche appetite” and as readers increasingly access the e-book format via e-readers and smart phones, sells in the genre are set to explode. Since younger gay readers and technologically oriented gay men are already geared towards e-book technology, the gay market for the genre should also increase. Lanyon thinks that because manga and yaoi, Japanese slash fan anime, is popular among younger readers and “because of the interactive nature of fan fiction, which is where a huge portion of the M/M audience come from,” that “young readers, gay and otherwise, are reading same sex romantic fiction” in large numbers.

Read Dick Smart's feature article on author P.A. Brown (Click here)

Though one might be tempted to think that gay male readers resist M/M romance because women write it, a moment’s reflection shows that this can’t be the case, since Mary Renault and Patricia Nell Warren are two of the top-selling writers of gay male romantic novels. Still, M/M erotic romance writers aim to do more than move us or entertain us; they aim to turn us on. Can women get “it” right, when it comes to the deed itself? Josh Lanyon thinks, if anything, “Women writing for this genre spend too much time focused on how the plumbing works, and not nearly enough on the individual psychology of their characters.” Writer P. A. Brown, author of LA Heat and others in the popular M/M crime series says, “I honestly don’t know if my being a woman affects my sales or not.  I get a lot of e-mails from men who love my work and they don’t seem fazed by it.  I only had one guy say he wouldn’t have read it if he knew, but since then he’s become a fan.”  She adds, “I know my readers are divided between men and women.  Some women don’t care for my books because I tend to make my characters more real, and not always the romantic heroes they want.”  She says, “My men have warts that some women don’t like.  In my head, when I write, I write for men.  If women enjoy it, great, but I want men to read them and see themselves in my characters.  But in the end, I just want to write a good story.”  As for research, Brown says, “I do watch gay porn.  I guess I watch it to get the sex right, but I also have to confess I enjoy it.”  Laura Baumbach, who co-authored the Lammy-nominated M/M crime romance Mexican Heat with Josh Lanyon, says, “I write characters that seem to appeal to both genders without a problem.  I just make sure I write men as men and not women with dicks.”  As for the anatomical aspects of gay romance, she says, “I’m a nurse, I know where things go.”  Treva Harte of Loose Id says she looks for books where the “characters ring true, be they gay or straight.”  She says her writers “use their vivid imaginations to describe any act and do whatever research they deem necessary.”  She adds, “You don’t have to commit murder to write a good mystery.”

Dick Smart (dicksmartlv@yahoo.com) writes and loves in Las Vegas. When not daydreaming, he is hard at work on his first romance novel.

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18 Responses to “Straight Women/Gay Romance”

  1. A. Cumming 11 June 2010 at 4:47 PM #

    Like most writers, I’m unemployed, too. While I agree that there are lots of women dominating the M/M Romance genre, and that they do indeed give a softer touch to the stories at hand (my editor is a woman – bless her) — if you truly want to delve into the dark spaces between the ears of M/M protagonists, you need a gay male author.

    “Dancing With The Devil”, by Taylor Siluwé is a romance collection of the darkest, most provocative order, one that will make you forget about those hot hunks in speedos when you’re reading it on the beach this summer.

    Here’s a quick review by Victor Hoff who writes for The Sword, “Taylor Siluwé journeys into some of the most hellish scenarios one would expect to find love and yet, as the writer more than capably shows, love, like weeds through brick, sprouts in many of the most unlikely places.”

    Just thought I’d share that with your readers of M/M Romance. Happy summer reading all …..

    • Dobidoo 24 September 2011 at 8:56 AM #

      “if you truly want to delve into the dark spaces between the ears of M/M protagonists, you need a gay male author.”

      That is the most sexist thing I have ever heard.

  2. Neil Plakcy 11 June 2010 at 4:47 PM #

    I started writing M/M romance after estabilshing myself in the gay mystery genre, and I’ve found a lot of crossover. The gay male fans of my Mahu series have begun reading my romance novels, and the straight female readers who have found me through romance sites have begun reading my mysteries. It’s all good– I’m delighted that authors are writing great stories and readers are enjoying them, regardless of anyone’s gender.

  3. David Ehrenstein 11 June 2010 at 5:24 PM #

    Call me old-fashioned (go ahead, I can take it) but speaking as a 63 year-old gay men the entire “slash” concept makes me (as the kids say these days) throw up a little in my mouth. Mary Renault was read and enjoyed when gay male fiction of less-than-pornographic demeanor was at a premium. Patricia Nell Warren (like Renault a lesbian) followed in her footsteps to some degree. But there was plenty of male gay writing around if one bothered to look (Proust, Gide, Laureamont, Paul Bowles, Gore Vidal, John Rechy, et. al.) The triumph of “slash” is of course “Brokeback Mountain” — a “gay film” literally untouched by gay hands. That so many gays have embraced it — some to a level of fantaticism that I’e never seen before — makes me throw up right onto the floor, if I can’t get to the nearest toilet fast enough. Needless to say I’ve written about this –

    http://www.laweekly.com/2005-12-29/film-tv/horsefeathers

    and have received death threats for my pains.

    I remain unbroken and unbowed.

  4. victor j. banis 11 June 2010 at 5:39 PM #

    Oh, wow, does this read like a bunch of crap. I don’t buy any of it. Readers don’t give squat whether a man wrote the book, or a woman (and how would one know? some of the men you quote aren’t.) What matters is the story, the book. If it works, nobody cares. And if it doesn’t, nobody cares.

    Sorry, I think this is an inane issue. As it happens, a typical Lambda issue. Meaning, out of touch.

    Victor J. Banis.

  5. Erastes 11 June 2010 at 5:57 PM #

    I disagree with many points here – there is a lot of crossover. I know gay guys who are writing gay romance or m/m – and 95 percent of my readers’ letters i get are from gay men. So to say the people who are reading m/m aren’t the same people who are reading gay fiction is frankly silly.

    I was convinced that gay men wanted romance stories, and although I don’t write FOR men or for women – i write for me – I was delighted to find out I was right. I’ve had letters from Doms, from bears, from Leathermen, some of my readers act out the scenes in my books, and some admit that they used to buy hetero-historical romances because that was the only place they could read about gorgeous men in historical clothes. They seem simply delighted when they discover that gay historicals exist. Waterstones Piccadilly (the biggest bookstore in Europe) told Alex Beecroft recently that her book False Colors was one of the best sellers in the gay section. I think that speaks volumes,scuse the pun.

  6. George Huber 11 June 2010 at 9:23 PM #

    I have read a few of these M/M novels. At first the idea of them seems tempting, but once one starts reading, you find the writing appallingly bad. The plot summary on the web page or back cover of the book tells the entire tale. Nothing else seems to happen. I don’t know how so many words can be written while at the same time so little happens and there is so little character development. Saying male readers resist M/M romance because the authors are women, while noting that that isn’t always the case because Mary Renault and Patricia Nell Warren are top selling writers of gay male romantic novels, points out the problem here perfectly. Renault and Warren are excellent writers. Maybe gay male readers have enough discernment not to want to read these very poorly written M/M romances. I know I do now. Once burned, twice shy as they say.

    • Anulira 31 May 2012 at 11:56 AM #

      In terms of quality of writing, I can say from experience that it’s across the board. I find it unusual to find a romance author who I think sets a high standard of writing style and quality – that’s when I’m trawling the hetero romance section at the local bookstore. In general, I tend to find that gay romance writers are often “better” writers than hetero romance writers, which I presume (without any real authority to do so) is because gay romance writers somewhat need to justify their work and struggle to get their work published – they work harder to create better books than hetero romance writers, which are often nabbed by any publisher and lapped up by consumers regardless of quality. But this is just my humble opinion and personal experience. And yes, there are dud authors in gay romance writing, just as I’m sure there are quality writers in hetero romance (I just haven’t found any of them yet…)

  7. george allwynn 11 June 2010 at 11:26 PM #

    I love Pat Brown’s work – I would read her any day, regardless if her work is considered M/m or just gay romance.

    In my humble opinion, too much emphasis is on the sex of the author. A damn good read is a damn good read. And since I don’t see anyone else stepping in to fill this need in the market that clearly there are readers for – I will continue to read and promote M/M – as long as there is a continuance of great stories coming out.

    You know, real men can be romantic with each other.

  8. the_other_sandy 12 June 2010 at 4:02 PM #

    A few clarifications:

    “fan or slash fan fiction is a subgenre of traditional women’s romance”

    Fan fiction and slash fiction are not equivalent. Slash fiction (M/M) is a subset of fan fiction, along with het (M/F) and gen (no romantic pairings).

    “manga and yaoi, Japanese slash fan anime, is popular”

    Anime=animated programming originally produced in Japan (could be for theatrical release, TV broadcast, or DVD release)

    Manga=graphic novels originally produced in Japan (although the Japanese use the word to refer to all graphic novels regardless of origin)

    Yaoi is the anime and manga equivalent of slash, and although there are a lot of yaoi manga produced by fans (this manga fan fiction is called doujinshi), yaoi is a hugely popular genre of professionally produced anime and manga (yaoi is much more mainstream in Japan than it is in the U.S.).

    See American yaoi publishers Blu and June for the mainstream titles, or Kitty Media for the harder core titles.

  9. Antonio Gonzalez 8 July 2010 at 9:14 PM #

    links fixed!

  10. Antonio Gonzalez 8 July 2010 at 9:26 PM #

    @The Other Sandy
    Thanks for the clarifications! We’ll note this for future reference.

    @George A
    Amen! Author gender and sexuality shouldn’t matter. What matters is the work itself. Hear, hear!

    @George H
    Thanks for stopping by!

    @Victor
    Ouch! Sorry you feel that way. I don’t consider myself or my website out of touch (I take ownership since I helped launch lamabdaliterary.org); but as you can see from the many comments, this is an issue that our readers are interested in. Thanks for stopping by anyway!

    @A. Cumming
    Wow! Holy book plug! I’ll take a look at Siluwé’s website later this week.

  11. Lai-Lai 6 March 2011 at 9:08 AM #

    Hmm, in that case, I wish Amazon would add an M/M section.

  12. Andrew Ashling 12 July 2011 at 12:34 PM #

    “But in the end, I just want to write a good story.”

    That sums it up I think.
    I wanted to write pseudo historical novels. Since I’m gay, my MC’s tend to be gay as well. There is also romance. Does that make them gay novels? Or m/m-romances? Gay Erotica, maybe, because some of the scenes are explicit?
    What I do know is that they never get classified as pseudo historical novels, although that describes about 90% of the content.
    Yes, there is a story. Yes, there is a plot. Several, in fact. (gasp)
    Not that I care all that much. It’s the story that counts. I wrote them for myself. I published them for others, and I appreciate anyone who likes them.
    A rose, you know…


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