You’re probably wondering why I’m posting my interview here when you’ll be able to read it if you buy the MLR Press book Why Straight Women Love Gay Romances which was just released. Well, as you probably know, books are like movies – a lot of stuff ends up on the cutting room floor and in this case I would say that at least 80% of what I said did. With 32 interviewees, if Geoff Knight (the author whose brilliant idea this was) and Kris Jacen (the editor) had included everything we all said, the book would probably have been three times the current length. I’m really sorry for poor Geoff and I applaud him for not bending under pressure.
I’m sure you know I love this genre, but that doesn’t make me blind to its flaws and I feel that there’s much room for improvement. I strongly believe that If you’re selling a product, whether it’s a book or a bottle of wine, it should be comparable to other similar products on the market which cost the same. My reviews are therefore, on occasion, critical and I don’t give a book 5 stars just because I support the genre and the authors as I don’t believe in giving a pass to a book that is sorely in need of an editor and maybe should not have been released. Since I didn’t want you to feel that I had “sold out” or pulled my punches because my interview was going to be published in Why Straight Women Love Gay Romances I’m giving you a more holistic view of what I said, by posting most of what didn’t make it in the book.
I’ve tried not to repeat parts of the interview that are in the book but I might have missed a few. Just so you know, this interview wouldn’t have been half as long if Geoff didn’t keep asking questions. Damn, he’s nosy!
Geoff is very keen on keeping the conversation going and I think that posting this interview is one way of doing so. I know you have your own ideas about the genre, so feel free to include your thoughts in the comments to this post: I’m accustomed to getting my ass handed to me whenever I post an article so don’t hold back – just be polite.
Q: How did you discover gay male romance or gay male erotica? How did you react? What went through your head?
A: After many years reading boring het romances with the genre’s very strict rules about what can or can’t happen in these books I decided to switch to het erotica which, while a lot more stimulating, didn’t give me what I wanted: PWP (porn without plot) just didn’t do it for me. I had also read books like The Charioteer, Dancer from the Dance, Dream Boy, Brokeback Mountain, The Front Runner etc. which had one thing in common, they ended sadly as gay men weren’t allowed to have a HEA in those days and the publishers wouldn’t release any gay romances unless one or both of the heroes ended up as “dead gheys.” I wanted to read something a little more contemporary with lots of zing, stories that would keep me up all night, but with no dead heroes.
Then I discovered Bareback by Chris Owen in 2003, almost a decade ago, which was the start of my downfall into hell, or another way of putting it – my love affair with male/male romance. This book had exactly what I was looking for: a plot, two very flawed heroes, and wonderfully crafted supporting characters who made me scream, cry, laugh, get hot and bothered and go through every emotion known to man and woman. I never looked back.
Q: How long have you been reading this genre? What made you want more?
A: As I mentioned above, I have been reading what’s now called M/M romances since 2003 and classic gay romances for more than 20 years. I don’t read as much as in the past, for different reasons, but if the quality of the product continues to improve I’m sure I will always be one of the biggest fans and advocates of the genre.
Q. What do you now enjoy about this genre?
A. What’s not to love about this genre? Many women will tell you that one man is hot and two (or three) are even hotter. What I most enjoy about these books is the wide range of characterizations, genres and plots that take me to different worlds, literally, and spark my imagination in a way few genres have been able to do in the past. I see men in love in a totally different light and their romances take a path that’s as night and day from the typical het romance of finding one true love and never straying. These guys LIVE! (Of course not all of the stories I read rev my motor and make me want to continue reading, but that’s another interview).
Q: Oh we SO can’t leave that for another interview, we want to hear it all, the good, the bad, the ugly! You’ve told us what turns you on. What turns you off? Is it a personal taste thing, or something across the board of the genre?
A: This interview was going along swimmingly but you had to go there, didn’t you Geoff? Well here are some of my concerns about the genre and I can’t say for sure if it’s personal or across the board, although many other readers have voiced similar complaints. These comments do not refer to all writers in the genre but it is a large enough segment that it’s noticeable, to me at least, probably because I’ve read so many M/M romances.
For years other readers and I have been asking for more diverse characters, and M/M authors are starting to deliver, but there’s a ways to go. Three years ago there were hardly any physically challenged or ethnic MCs, any protagonist who was older than 35, or whose religion was not of the Christian faith. Kudos to our authors because now we’re getting stories that many of us who do not fit the typical profile of a “romance” reader can relate to. Although I love hot twenty-something heroes as much as the next reader perhaps it might be better characterization if a few more heroes looked like the typical guy you would meet on the street, or the guy next door (no, I don’t mean the one who had a fight with hygiene and he won, or the guy with the huge belly, as that is so unromantic in a protagonist). 5% more regular everyday guys would be great – I’m not greedy. Remember that an unending diet of the same character type, no matter how much you love them, is wearing. BTW instead of throwing away those celluloid heroes please send the hot young studs to my address.
Obviously since m/m romance is fantasy, by its very nature it’s unrealistic and is not really a slice of life — that’s why many readers love paranormal and fantasy books — but I think that the contemporary stories should be somewhat believable.
I’m almost done… don’t you wish you never started this Geoff? Stop me before it’s too late. Did you say it’s already too late? Well then, what the hell, let’s continue.
Many readers want to read something short before they go to bed and I used to love short stories, but I found that many of them had an “unfinished/to be continued” feel when I got to the end, which 75% of the time was rushed and left me very unsatisfied. I admit this is probably because my expectations were too high so I have switched back to novellas and novel length books as a few people, I won’t name any names but they know who they are, have made fun of me and told me that I should stop reading “pamphlets,” which is what they call short stories, and they go on to say that books that can be written as tweets on Twitter are not real books. Why says so? :) All I’m saying is I think that writing short stories is really an art form.
Now I’ll go into hiding before they find me. Is there a safe house in Oz where I can stay until the heat is off?
Q. What attracts you and why do you think it does?
A. I enjoy reading about gay men in romantic relationships who are relatively equal, so there isn’t usually the male/female dynamic of the helpless TSTL (too stupid to live) damsel in distress waiting to be rescued by the swashbuckling hero. Instead, the guys “rescue” themselves as there is no “gurl” in bed with them (hopefully). Sure, no two men are exactly alike, but under most circumstances they are more pragmatic in solving their relationship problems. They do have issues they have to resolve within 200 – 300 pages and many times the grand finale doesn’t seem believable, but hey, it’s fun watching the protagonists squirm as they try to fix their screw ups.
Other than the characterizations, what attracts me to the genre is how complex and romantic some of the plots are. I love adventures where one MC flies off to other cities around the world to solve crimes or alternatively, just spends the weekend with the hot man he met at a club a few nights ago that he can’t resist. What could be more romantic than making out on the kitchen counter because you can’t make it to the bedroom? How about making love on the beach late at night, on the baseball field when no one’s around …… sorry, where was I?
Q: Tell us about you and your world. Where do you live in the world? What are the attitudes in your city/neighborhood/family about gay men? Who do you live with? What’s your marital (or non-marital status)? Kids? What do you do in a day? Who is important in your world?
A: I live in Toronto which is referred to sometimes as Hollywood North because so many films are made here and the producers/directors pretend that it’s New York or Chicago or another US city. It’s also the most gay-friendly city in North America outside of San Francisco. Of course that doesn’t mean there isn’t prejudice or gay bashing here, but it’s a lot less common than in the majority of other cities around the world. Same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada since 2005 but Ontario where I live was the first province to do so in 2003, way before it was the cool thing to do, which gives you an idea of how progressive we are in some areas. There’s a very large gay population in this city and many gay couples and singles have moved here from other countries because of the freedoms they enjoy here.
Everyone in my family knows I read gay romances and some of the art in my apartment reflects my love of gay men. Among tasteful Ansel Adams prints are large framed photographs by Herb Ritts and Michael Breyette. I wonder what old Ansel would say if he were alive today and saw the company he was keeping on my wall?
As for what I do for fun, I love to travel to exotic places and hope someday to go across Europe on the Orient Express when I win the lottery. In the meantime I’ll just fly to other countries to experience the different cultures. I also have fun going out with my friends to eat or visit the Art Gallery of Ontario, or the Royal Ontario Museum. I love going to a ballgame and kicking back, taking in a movie or just hanging out.
Q: Who knows about your love of gay male romance or gay male erotica? How much do they know?
A: My family has known for years what I read. They think my taste in books is weird but then they always thought I was strange.
Q. How did you feel about telling them? Why did you tell them?
A. I didn’t tell them I read male/male romances – they saw the books on my bookshelves and opened a few of them which they quickly closed.
Q. Was it a big deal? How did they react?
A. I don’t think they were shocked because I love male nude photography so my photography collections are everywhere – on the coffee table and walls. M/M romance is just another extension of my love for hot men.
Q. Who haven’t you told and why?
A. My friends know what I read and their reactions are mixed. It doesn’t bother me when others disapprove – as an adult I think I can read what I like and not be concerned about other people’s reactions, which sometimes can be quite harsh. However, that’s a reflection on them and what their lives are like and has nothing to do with me or what I read.
Q: Has your love of this genre resulted in any particularly negative/positive/powerful experiences in your relationships with others? Have people surprised you in a good or bad way?
A: I wouldn’t say that my love of the genre has had any negative impact on my life since I have had gay friends for a long time. No, I’m not a fag hag – the guys are just my friends and we hang out.
The strangest thing is the people who have surprised me by being very open-minded, such as a very straight male friend, but maybe he is supportive because he’s curious or questioning.
Q: Would you or have you ever introduced anyone else to this genre? How did you do it? How did they react?
A. Some of my friends live on a high moral ground or pretend to do so. We have a book club where we read passages from books that we love. Guess what I read? I love our book club meetings. I think I’m winning them over.
Q. Do you think more straight women would enjoy this genre?
A. Yes I do. A lot of women admit to buying erotic books online now that they don’t have to go into the bookstore and face those judgmental looks from the clerks. They can pretty well read all of the books they were too ashamed to purchase in the past. By extrapolation I would say that more straight women enjoy this genre than they would admit, and the numbers are growing exponentially.
Q. What would you say to anyone out there who might be curious to try this genre?
A: If you read romances and are open minded there’s an unexplored world of pleasure waiting for you, men in love with other men so give it a try. What do you have to lose? Hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) of women have been reading these books for almost a decade.
Q: Why do you think more straight women DON’T read this genre?
A: They are either ashamed to read these books because of their religious beliefs/convictions, or maybe they just don’t enjoy having sex or reading romances, gay or straight. Unfortunately this world is no gaytopia and there are people who would never read these books because of the MC’s sexual orientation.
Q. What’s more important on a cover, a tender kiss or a chiseled torso?
A. I hate the headless torsos. A tender kiss does it for me. Why would anyone want to look at six packs or eight packs with no faces instead of two hot guys?
Q. How hot can you take it?
A. Pretty hot, but not every author can write sex scenes that I enjoy or want to read. Sometimes I skip them because the writer manages to make something as sizzling as great sex dull and uninteresting. Some straight M/M authors admit that they don’t like to write gay sex scenes because it makes them uncomfortable — and it shows. However, those who do it well are exceptional at it. (I meant writing it, not actually doing it).
Q. Is there a particular sub-genre you’ll read before any others (e.g. are gay men hotter as werewolves, etc?) Why?
A. I like contemporary stories probably a little more than paranormal as long as the characters are three dimensional and believable. I do love paranormals but I would like to see a bit more variety. Let your imagination soar authors and don’t just write about werewolves and vampires – show some creativity. While I draw the line at snake shifters other readers might love them.
Q: Do you have a better understanding of men—either gay or straight—by reading this genre?
Has it changed the way you relate to or perceive the opposite sex?
A: Most of my career has been spent working with men almost exclusively and there are more men in my family than women, plus I have more male friends so I had a pretty good understanding of the opposite sex before I started reading male/male romances. I believe that men – gay or straight – are basically similar in how they approach life, except that most straight men don’t have to deal with the discrimination, hate and bullying to the degree that gay men do. Regardless of their sexual orientation, the majority of men have similar physiological makeup and emotional reactions and I don’t view them any differently as a result of reading M/M romances.
Q: What’s your definition of a ‘real man’? Does it differ in what you expect in a romance hero?
A: “Real men” come in all shapes, sizes and colours. I would describe a “real man” as someone who makes me laugh, is intelligent, has a job (that’s very important), is kind to animals, and has a healthy lifestyle which includes sex. Of course if he’s smoking hot that doesn’t hurt, but looks fade and guys lose their hair (sorry) , so I think being able to have an intelligent conversation the ‘morning after’ with a guy is better than waking up next to a hot guy who is as thick as molasses and can only say “whatever” “amazing” or “uh huh”. Obviously not everyone will agree with me and that’s great because each person’s definition of a “real man” will be different.
A romance hero is usually larger than life and has the biggest balls and dick to match. Many authors go wild with their male characters, who have awesome physical attributes – 6 ft plus, 8 pack, bubble butt or at least a very firm butt, guns to die for, rich, blond hair, with piercing green or blue eyes, or “melting chocolate orbs” (my favourite), perfect teeth and their hairline never recedes. Alright I love guys with hair, I admit it, but bald is beautiful too. When I rub my hands over that smooth bald head I … where was I? Oh yes, romance heroes are so beautiful you ache to put them in a box so they won’t get dirty.
(NO NEED TO ANSWER THIS ONE BUT I HAVE TO ASK BECAUSE READERS WILL BE THINKING IT…)
Q: Has it changed or improved your sex life?
A: You said that I didn’t need to answer this question but I will because you’re such a liar Geoff. You’re the one who really wants to know the answer not the readers, so be honest and don’t blame them for you being an inquisitive perv, you little faker.
To answer the question, I haven’t noticed any improvement in my sex life that’s directly attributable to these books because if I missed anything along the way before M/M I didn’t figure it out.
Q. Do you know any new tricks to turn on your man, lol?
A. As regards learning new tricks to turn my man on, shouldn’t the shoe be on the other foot? I want my man to be the one turning tricks in bed. Shouldn’t the hot guy in bed next to me be more interested in turning me on rather than the other way around? Hmmm ….maybe that’s why I’m divorced.
Q. Do you ever get asked if you learned that in one of those books you read ?
A. Since for years I made my male friends (gay and straight) tell me everything they knew about sex and plied them with liquor when they wouldn’t give it up (it’s amazing how a little alcohol loosens the tongue when they wouldn’t talk – alright, a LOT of alcohol), I picked up quite a few tips before I started reading M/M. Sometimes talking to male friends is better than trying to pry the same information out of your husband.
Most of the time M/M books don’t have the same ring of authenticity, if you get my drift, but they serve their purpose late at night.
The guys I date don’t know what I read. I don’t tell them because I don’t want them to feel they have to rise to the occasion.
Q: Has this genre changed you as a person in any way?
A: No. I have always been this same sweet and gentle person. That’s not the answer you’re looking for? Should I reveal that I now blatantly check out guys on the street, trying to figure out if they’re going commando and on what side they dress? I admit that a guy wearing cut off jeans on the street does make me breathe a little harder and think of some of the hot guys I may have read about a few hours earlier. Seriously, I’ve always been a pretty liberal thinker so gay romances didn’t really move my sexual yardstick that much. Except those threesomes – they are hot, hot, hot.
Some of the interview has been omitted because it’s in the book or I will be writing a separate post about a few of the topics. If you would like to comment I look forward to hearing from you.