Monday 7 March 2011

Gay male romance for women

Saturday's Globe and Mail (Feb 12/2011) ran an article by Elio Iannacci with the intriguing title, "What women want: Gay male romance novels". What? They do? Is this the explanation behind the phenomenal success of Brokeback Mountain?

Mr. Iannacci explains, surprisingly enough, that not only is the "m/m" genre growing in popularity as evidenced by Amazon's Kindle increasing the number of titles offered and Harlequin starting to publish same-sex stories, the genre's top fans are straight, married women. But now for even more surprises, some of the top authors of this kind of romance are heterosexual females. Heidi Cullinan from Iowa is a heterosexual 37 year old suburban mother of 2 who has several popular gay romance and homoerotic titles to her name. Erastes is the penname of a heterosexual 47 year old woman from Norfolk, U.K. (married 15 years) who specializes in "gay historical fiction". Alex Beecroft, a heterosexual 45-year-old Irish mother of two from Cambridge, England writes gay romance.

Okay, back up here. I need a recap. [I stare at the ceiling perplexed] These are straight women writing stories about the romances of gay men for an audience of straight women. [said slowly] O... kay... So, just what is the attraction for a woman? Dr. Sarah S. G. Franz (Ph.D. in English) explains:

...romances are actually about watching the hero figure out and confess his feelings, if they're about watching him move from the "masculine economy of use" to the "feminine economy of exchange," then watching TWO men have to figure it out for and with each other is more than twice as wonderful as watching one man figure it out for and with a woman.

Dr. Franz goes on:

If women are attracted to romances to watch the men realize that they can't survive without love... Because it's much more impressive to make the rake, the asshole, the user, fall in love than to make the nice guy fall in love. If the one man who refuses to admit that love exists ... can be seen to be emotionally vulnerable, then causing or watching that vulnerability gives a female reader/viewer power over everything that user, that alpha male, represents. A friend of mine recently wrote on her blog: "I want to take a man who doesn't express love and inspire him to express it to *me*."

Slash Fiction
Where did all this come from? According to Lambda Literary, Josh Layon, author of the popular Adrien English M/M mystery series, says the antecedents of M/M romance lie in fan or slash fiction which is dominated by women.

"Fan fiction" refers to stories written by fans of an original work. This could be Star Trek or Star Wars or even Harry Potter. "Slash fiction" is type of fan fiction but involves romantic or sexual relationships between fictional characters of the same sex. (Female characters are sometimes called femslash) It seems the very first of this type of story involved Captain Kirk and Spock of the original Star Trek; the slash referring to Kirk/Spock.

Layon explains that men have never been a huge part of slash fandom. He also explains that in part, in the same way men may fantasize about lesbians, there is a part of women fantasizing about men. However, he stresses that the romantic aspect of the story is important. Yes, some of this writing is erotica, some of it is even more graphic, but there is the romance and it is this part of the story which is a great deal of importance to the female reader.

Romance / Erotica / Graphic
It would seem the M/M genre spans the spectrum of sexual explicitness. Romance is a big factor in the stories which, as Dr. Franz pointed out, jibs with the female view but that doesn't mean the more earthly expressions of said love do not come into play. Writer P. A. Brown, author of LA Heat and others in the popular M/M crime series is a mother. Nevertheless, she writes realistically and says for research, "I do watch gay porn. I guess I watch it to get the sex right, but I also have to confess I enjoy it."

Is this just a niche?
I suppose. But then again, if you're unfamiliar with something, it always looks like a niche, like it is not part of my mainstream. I just went to Chapters/Indigo and typed in the three authors from the Globe and Mail article. I searched on Heidi Cullinan and found 5 titles offered as ebooks. Erastes returned four titles, one ebook and three books while Alex Beecroft shows 5 titles, one ebook and four books. You may say "niche" but there they are, offered by a mainstream book seller. Is that not an acknowledgement of just how much more mainstream this phenomenon may be?

Just imagine this. "eHow" (from Wikipedia) is an online how-to guide with more than 1 million articles and 170,000 videos offering step-by-step instructions. The web site offers the article "How to Write Gay Romance When You're a Woman" by Regina Paul (2013-07-20: Sorry, link no longer works) which describes how to break into this genre of romantic writing. - Hey! How much more mainstream can you get? - I note point number four and its important guidance for all would-be writers:

When you begin writing, it is important not to focus so much on the sex, meaning that your story should have an actual plot and be an actual romance rather than straight erotica. There is a big difference between erotica and erotic romance, and this can be where women excel in the arena of writing gay romance. The more you share with readers the emotions of your characters, the more potential to be successful there is.

Final Word
Wow. [I'm shaking my head] I live a sheltered life. I had no idea this was going on: M/M romance written by women for women. I'm amused to see that while old fashioned romances slash erotica novels are called "bodice rippers", somebody has jokingly referred to M/M romances as "zipper rippers".

An odd thought comes to mind: I have ofttimes heard it said that men are the users of porn; the unsaid inference being that women are not users of porn. Somehow that may give one the impression that women are not sexual creatures or not as sexual as men. Is this true? Or could it be that the sexuality of women is different, comes out in other ways, ways which might not be as obvious as it is for men? It is curious how men are considered to be visual while women are thought to be cerebral. Could it be that for a woman, reading about it is more satisfying than just seeing it?

I had no idea that women were enjoying M/M romance. And if I can refer to that famous episode of Seinfeld about homosexuality, "Not that there is anything wrong with that."


The Globe and Mail - Feb 11/2011
What women want: Gay male romance novels by Elio Iannacci

Wikipedia: Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain is a 2005 romantic drama film that depicts the complex romantic and sexual relationship between two men in the American West from 1963 to 1983. The film was directed by Taiwanese American director Ang Lee from a screenplay by Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry, which they adapted from the short story "Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx. The film stars Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Michelle Williams.

Budget: $14 million; Gross: $178 million

official web site Heidi Cullinan

Wikipedia: Alex Beecroft
Alex Beecroft is an English author best known for historical fiction, notably Age of Sail, featuring gay characters and romantic storylines. Her novels and shorter works include paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.

Beecroft won Linden Bay Romance's (now Samhain Publishing) Starlight Writing Competition in 2007 with her first novel, Captain’s Surrender, making it her first published book. On the subject of writing gay romance, Beecroft has appeared in the Charleston City Paper, LA Weekly, the New Haven Advocate, the Baltimore City Paper, and The Other Paper. She is a regular reviewer for the blog Speak Its Name, which highlights historical gay fiction.

official web site: Alex Beecroft

Wikipedia: Erastes
Erastes is the penname of a female author who lives in Norfolk, UK. She drew her inspiration to write historical fiction from works such as Gaywyck by Vincent Virga and the novels of Mary Renault. Erastes is the Director of the Erotic Authors Association and a member of the Historical Novel Society. She is the moderator of Speak Its Name, an influential blog dedicated to gay historical fiction.

official web site: Erastes

Teach Me Tonight - July 10, 2006
Alpha male syndrome by Dr. Sarah S. G. Franz (Ph.D. in English)

Baltimore City Paper - June 17/2009
Zipper Rippers By Heather Harris
Women write gay male romance novels for women
The romance novel, a static and predictable genre, is undergoing an evolution of sorts: storylines written by straight women for straight women . . . about gay men. Gay men are allowed to read them, of course--there's no gender ID check. But the authors want the books shelved with romance novels, not gay literature, and they are straight women writing the stories that they would want to read. Alex Beecroft, the author of False Colors, an "m/m romance" set in the mid-18th century British navy, doesn't see what the big deal is. "Whether your romance is m/f or m/m, love is the same," she writes in an e-mail from her home in England, "two people, heart and soul, fighting for something beautiful, something worth fighting for." Yes, but is it really a romance novel if there's not a heaving bosom?

How to Write Gay Romance When You're a Woman By Regina Paul
[On July 20, 2013, I discovered this link is no longer valid. Sorry. It would seem eHow has taken it off-line.]

Lambda Literary - June 8, 2010
Straight Women/Gay Romance by Dick Smart

Wikipedia: Josh Lanyon
Josh Lanyon is an American writer of LGBT [LGBT = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender: or GLBT] mystery and adventure fiction, usually with a strong romantic subplot.

Over the past decade Lanyon has written numerous novels, novellas and short stories as well as the non-fiction writing guide Man, Oh Man! Writing M/M Fiction for Kinks and Ca$h. He is the author of the Holmes & Moriarity comic mysteries as well as the Adrien English mystery novels, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT [LGBT or GLBT] fiction.

official web site: Josh Lanyon

Wikipedia: Slash fiction
Slash fiction is a genre of fan fiction that focuses on the depiction of romantic or sexual relationships between fictional characters of the same sex. While the term was originally restricted to stories in which male media characters were involved in an explicit adult relationship as a primary plot element, it is now often used to refer to any fan story containing a pairing between same-sex characters, although many fans distinguish the female-focused variety as a separate genre commonly referred to as femslash. The characters are usually not engaged in such relationships in their respective fictional universes.


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