Sunday, July 28, 2013

Writing Romance and Talking About It: my perspective

First off in the last few weeks I have moved into a new (and nicer) apartment and started another day job that, while requiring a good amount of retraining, is looking like it will work out well for me.

I've been meaning to make a post to this blog and lately I've seen a bunch of people posting about the perannail question of why they write m/m romance or how they feel about telling other people what they write.

I've been mulling over writing about my experience with this issue for a while now so I thought I'd take the time to write about it here.

I know a lot of authors get questioned about why they write m/m romance (or f/f romance I assume) instead of heterosexual romance. For a lot of authors it is the gay aspect of their stories which make them hesitate to tell co-workers or family members about their books. Some authors have in fact found themselves in really serious trouble when outted, not because they write romance but because they write gay romance.

I however am in a completely different situation if not the exact reverse.

No one ever questions why I write m/m romance. No one. This is mostly because I very rarely frame myself as an author of only m/m romance. Although I do write things which fall into that genre, and considered myself part of that community I usually introduce myself as an author of queer or LGBTQA romance. I write about characters who fall all over the spectrum of queer and trans* experience. Also for my characters, as with most queer and trans* people, single identities tend to bleed into one another and be difficult to completely define with just one term.

And no one ever questions why I write almost exclusively about queer and trans* characters because I myself am queer. Not only do I identify as gay or queer, depending on who is asking, and am very out about this but I am also very obviously gender non-conforming in the way I present myself. Everyone expects me to write about queer characters and I think I would get more questions if I didn't. Further the group of people I tend to spent time with, even work with, is self selecting. If someone where to be homophic or transphobic to the point of calling me out over what I choose to write they would already be having a problem with me before we even got to the point of talking about books. 

So that part of the equation has never been a problem for me.

The romance element on the other hand has been difficult. Sometimes I hedge the question, and say I write LGBTQA speculative fiction or speculative fiction with strong romance subplots. Both of these answers are true but the fact remains the publishers I work with are romance publishers, my books are sold as romance novels.

In a lot of ways I enjoy writing romance. Sex and relationships, especially romantic relationships, are important to me and endlessly fascinating. While some of my favorite books don't have either I always kind of wished they did. I am a strong believer that just having sex or romance in a book will not automatically make it better. Taking the time to really think about these types of human connection and giving them the same amount of serious consideration as any other element of the characterization or plot though will definitely make a good story stronger. Not to mention when done well it can be amazing and fun to read about.

I have really enjoyed my time writing romance and hope to continue to do so.

I did not grow up reading romance though. I am not well versed in the history of more mainstream heterosexual romance. I have only a very basic grasp of the tried and true tropes that seem to have dominated the romance genre for the last sixty years or so.

I also am all too aware of the stigma attached to reading and writing romance. I know we, as romance authors, are considered the bottom of the barrel within genre fiction world. Writers of fantasy novel with women in chain mail bikinis on the cover get to go to bed secure in the knowledge that at least they are taken more seriously than romance authors are. I sometimes joke with my friend and family by wondering who gets less respect: comic book writers or romance authors?

Probably romance authors.

I have a friend who is in the process of doing a long-term academic study of the portrayal of rape in romance novels from the 1950s to the present. I always have to keep myself from cringing with more than a little bit of shame when she talks about her research with me. I tell myself that this is something all genres are dealing, that there are a lot of romance authors dealing critically and respectfully with the issue of sexual violence but that never stops me from feeling a little bit responsible. 

Some days I can feel pride about doing what I want to do and being the writing I want to be despite the stigma and low expectations, even because of them. Some days I just put my head down and say I write fantasy novels with queer characters.

I truly wish I could be one of those people who are proud of being a romance author, for whom the romance part wasn't at all problematic to admit to.

It is an ongoing process for me though.

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