Blog Hijack: Stuart Wakefield Says Who Cares Who Wrote It?!

At the end of July I attended my first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (GLBT) Fiction conference.

As Body of Water, my own M/M Paranormal Romance novel, nears its September launch date I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to meet the other guys that are writing and reading gay romance a.k.a. M/M Romance.

The night before the conference I looked for Jo, a female writer I'd been in touch with, in the bar and found her with half a dozen other women who all turned out to be M/M Romance authors. I got on with them all famously but a part of me still looked forward to meeting some of the guys, too.

The following morning I walked into the conference itself and nearly every attendee was female. Of approximately 45 attendees just 3 of us were male and most of the women used androgynous pen names like Chris and Alex at the request of their publishers.
As we introduced ourselves I fought the urge to say "Hi, I'm Stuart and I'm a real boy!"

"Does anyone have any questions to get us warmed up?" asked Charlie, also a woman.

Up goes my hand. I had to ask. "Why are women writing gay romance?"

The answer surprised me.

M/M Romance grew out of Slash Fiction (think Kirk/Spock) and Fan Fiction, both hugely popular with women who were arguably dissatisfied with popular speculative fiction and wanted to put their own spin on it.

Some women dislike traditional romance novels because the women in them are often portrayed as weak, both physically and emotionally. But getting a strong female in romance is equally tricky because they can often end up coming across as bitches. M/M Romance affords readers the luxury of seeing two strong leads and the power play between them leading up to the Happily Ever After or Happy For Now.


What really surprised me is that there has been backlash from the LGBT community who feel that M/M Romance does not reflect either their experience or agenda. For example, this has resulted in work by straight authors being excluded from nomination for the Lamda Literary Awards.

"In determining whether a book should be submitted for consideration, it should be noted that the Lambda Literary Awards are based principally on the LGBT content, the sexual orientation of the author and the literary merit of the work."

As a gay man I do not understand this. Should a civilian be forbidden from nomination for their work of military fiction, or a non-astronaut chastised for daring to write a work of science fiction? Where do we stop? Do we demand refunds from Rowling (the most famous of muggles) for not being a witch? Do we mob Meyer for being – wait for it - ordinary?

I spotted no fairy wings hidden under Penelope Fletcher's cardigan when I met her. Do we strip her of her book sales and smash our Kindles in disgust?

No.

We enjoy stories conjured from these talented writers' imaginations. If an author can imagine a world, and find an audience that enjoys it, shouldn't they be celebrated?

So, when Body of Water is released, I wish for just one thing – readers who love it.

(And maybe, just maybe, a nomination…)



25 comments:

  1. Good blog, Stu. (Charlie here, Blogger arsing about and not letting me login properly).

    I don't care who writes what so long as it's good.

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  2. I absolutely agree with you, Stu. The whole point of great fiction is the writers' ability to tell their story for their readers' enjoyment. Gosh, how do we limit our imagination as writers - and why should we?

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  4. Hear hear, Stuart. Writers are writers and all this ghetto-ising is Not Good. Thanks for a great blog post.

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  5. Ack! Just cleaning up my typos:

    I agree with you. I enjoy good M/M romance novels no matter who wrote them. Same goes for F/F romance novels. In fact, I wish lots more people of whatever gender and orientation were writing F/F romance! We need more of them.

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  6. Yes, I think it's the writer's skill that should matter, not their sex. Though of course, I would say that, wouldn't I? Also, having said that, it's nice to see more male writers in the genre. There were 300% more this year than last, and I hope that increase will carry on until we're a bit more equally represented.

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  7. Thank you. Common sense wrapped up in a concise blog.

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  8. Nice post, Stu. I do think the m/m writers get a raw deal over their choices of pennames when the same thing goes on in plenty of other genres (JK Rowling being an obvious example). And who decides what is or isn't a gendered name? Fashions change and what was popular for female babies at one point might become popular for male babies a couple of decades later or in another country.

    Plus, of course, some of us are gender-neutral in the first place.

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  9. Thanks for visiting, reading and commenting!

    And thank you to Penelope for letting me hijack her blog to vent my spleen ;)

    I imagine that if a gay writer was denied a nomination for writing 'straight fiction' there would be uproar!

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  10. Excellent post, Stu.
    I'll admit I came to the meet to meet male writers as well, because they are so rare (and they are IMHO usually great guys too).
    Our large female contingent was no surprise to me, of course, and the ladies were equally fabulous and it was lovely to exchange words and ideas with them about writing.
    I was taken aback by the lambda rules. Talk about not-so positive discrimination!
    Does this mean I won't just have to let everyone think I'm a lesbian, but will have to actually pretend to be one as well?
    It's just not me. Although apparently, I might get away with it!

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  11. Honestly, I was totally unaware this was the case for gay romance, and was surprised when I read Stu's post. I'm in agreement with all here on the underlying principle it doesn't matter who wrote the book it should be celebrated and awarded alongside other works.

    However, the reasoning for the backlash from the LGBT community ... does seem to be a valid one. "does not reflect either their experience or agenda." If (for example) women writing M/M Romance are not embodying the true essence of the relationships, maybe there is some justification for the LGBT community to feel the exclusion of certain books is warranted, and why it is actively taken into consideration.

    Even so, it's down to the female writers to review the story elements they're focusing on. Dissatisfaction with a story should not be interpreted as a go ahead for award bodies to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Surely there should be guidelines purely around stylist elements instead?

    I don't know enough about the topic to be any clearer or firmer, but it's interesting to see how it develops in future.

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  12. great blog Stuart - you're absolutely right; it shouldn't matter WHAT someone rights as long as it is good and rings true.

    btw, your book trailer is excellent and has me looking forward to Sept.

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  13. Great post, Stu! I loved meeting you and all the others and it's good to see the news spread across the net via various people's blogs! This whole discussion about who is 'entitled' or even 'able' to write GLBT characters makes me so tired. It was a relief to meet more like-minded people two weeks ago - all of whom just want to get on with in and create more wonderful fiction. One of those will be your book - and I cannot wait to read it!

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  14. THANK YOU, Stuart.

    It absolutely appalled me when Lambda put orientation before literary merit. If a book does not match the "essence" or "agenda," (though, apart from equal rights for GLBTQetc people, I have yet to see an 'agenda' that we all agree on), then that should be taken into consideration as part of "literary merit." When a gay reader addresses me as "Mr.," then I assume my writing passed muster as authentic. (Of course, I'm dyke with a 'masculine' personality, according to online analyzers.) When I see someone griping on Amazon that he is angry when he finds out that a book he enjoyed was written by a woman... well, that's his issue, not mine. Should we toss out Oscar Wilde's plays because he wrote about het relationships?.

    It's the story. It's always and only the story, and if it's anything other than the story, then it isn't about writing, it's about politics and maybe mysogyny.

    I'm going to go pre-order your book. And, hell, all you need for a Lambda nomination is a small fee and 4 copies of your book, so go for it!

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  15. Excellent points made, Stu - I'm convinced the poor reputation m/m romance has within certain GLBTQ circles puts many readers and writers off trying a genre they might really enjoy.

    I've been told by a well respected m/m author that I'd be better off with a less obviously feminine name, as I'd probably catch those readers who won't read gay stories written by women - straight or not (and I'm definitely not). Still, at least this way I won't have anyone leaving annoyed comments on Amazon about me tricking them into reading my stories!

    More male authors at the Meet next year would be a wonderful thing - I hope we can drum up some more interest.

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  16. Stu ... It's all so weird (although I like weird), in that I remember when I, as a man, writing as Willa Lambert, helped Harlequin launch their steamy hetereo SuperRomance series with my #2 LOVE'S EMERALD FLAME, and doing the romance-novel conferences to find myself the only man in the group. Now, to go to m/m conferences and find myself, usually, the only man in the bunch can be just as disconcerting. Not that I begrudge women the write to write what they want (the readers of m/m, these days, more women than men), because I'm a firm believer (having written hetero romances) that a good book is a good book is a good book, no matter who (of whatever sexual orientation) wrote it. That's not to say that the resulting change in readership has often changed m/m books into a format which often takes it from the wham-bam-thank-you-man that I once exclusively wrote (back in the days when I registered "one-hand read" as a trademark), and still prefer, to a hi-let's-date-have-dinner-discuss-our-emotions-go-to-bed-kiss-hug-talk-and-THEN-after-lengthy-foreplay-still-have-sex. Granted, I still manage to squeeze in some sex-for-sex, but "they" don't call it male ROMANCE, these days, for nothing.

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  17. It's actually sad that I've had to say this in so many blog comments already, but one of the first gay novels I ever read, right after Simon Raven's "Fielding Gray" and Roger Peyrefitte's "Les amitiés particulières," was Mary Renault's "The Persian Boy."
    I never hesitated one fraction of a second to read a book about gay characters for the sole reason that it was written by a woman.
    It is humbug that woman can't write about gay characters or about vampires without being one, though I wish Stepheny hadn't. I write woman characters, and I am male.
    Some readers seem to think I am a woman. It's not true, but it doesn't bother me in the least. In fact I'm slightly flattered.
    What I find typical of these kind of organizations is their priorities. First and foremost they consider the LGBT content, whatever that may be. In second place they look at the sexual orientation of the writer (WTF?) in much the same way as cardinals used to look at the balls of a future pope. Habet testes. Then, and only then, they will take a look at the literary value of a book.
    They should take the word 'literary' out of the name, and call it "Lambda Award for Politically Correct Gayness as Determined by Us in Writing by Certified Gay People."
    OK, not all that snappy, but a lot more honest.
    I know, Mary Renault was a lesbian, so the orientation thing should be all right. On the other hand she wrote a lot about male gay characters. I wonder what Lambda would think of her if she were writing today?

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  18. Someone should've told Thomas Hardy that he had no business writing "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" not being a woman himself.

    Btw, m/m fiction's readership is also overwhelmingly straight female. So there. It's always strange to me to come across male readers. I'd like to ask them how they feel about being objectified by all these straight women.

    I have a long-winded theory about why we write what we do. The short version: Being raised by an extremely male-centric popular media we easily identify with men. Being straight we also find them sexually desirable. Some of us just took it to its logical conclusion.

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  19. Great blog Stu, and it was marvellous to meet you at the event! I was particularly pleased and heartened by the way you weren't intimidated by the initial appearance of the attendee base, but entered into the spirit - and by the end of the weekend, we were all one together :).

    From Clare London (as I'm having trouble logging into Blogger as usual)

    I believe fiction should be viewed solely on its merits. Of course a book will be influenced by its creator, but it's the end result that matters, surely? "Good" fiction should show respect and perception, and enrich the reader. If that were extended across the board, it'd cover all the political and social implications as well, surely?

    The great benefit of the UK Meet was inspiring the sense of community, and encouraging the desire to learn and improve and promote the best of the genre. Well, it was for me :).

    Thanks again for an articulate and enthusiastic summary.

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  20. I guess because I'm new to the genre I had never read about this before now. Frankly, it's a little mystifying to me for all of the reasons Stu highlighted. Are we really going to start to impose rules that authors can only write characters that are exactly like them? Seriously, people don't want to read about my real life. It's FICTION, made up, pretend. I guess my books should only feature straight women, since I'm going to necessarily write anything else badly... Come on, give me a break.

    As far as the other question, I honestly have no idea what I find appealing about M/M Romances. I only started reading them a couple of months ago and have enjoyed every one I've picked up so far. Other comments have touched on a few very good points. I guess for me, it's nice that two characters start out on an equal footing. Some of the usual gender power-plays don't apply, and that's refreshing to me.

    Anyway, thanks for the thought provoking post!

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  21. Good blog, Stu. I'm going to link to it in my monthly round up of interesting links on my blog.

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  22. I am suddenly tempted to start singing the opening lines of Madonna's Express Yourself:

    "Come on, girls. Do you believe in love? 'Cause I've got something to say about it and it goes something like this."

    But seriously, as a self-confessed SciFi geek and video gamer, I'd never be able to be entertained the way I have if people stuck to what they know!

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  23. What a great blog. I think thats crazy LAMBDA excludes straight writers from being nominated.

    How will you fight for equality and you exclude a certain group of people because they aren't gay?

    WTF...

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  24. I had a male reader who took the time to tell me that the men in my stories were 'men', not women dressed up in male clothing.

    To be honest, that's the best compliment I could have. My sexuality, his sexuality, wasn't important.

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  25. Wonderful post, Stuart, and something that a lot of folks have struggled with as gay romance gains momentum and popularity.

    William makes a good point above: we are talking about Romance novels. Romance, the last bastion of the gender divide. In all other genres and sub-species of fiction, even SF, the gender walls fell years ago. Not so in Romance. The VAST majority of romance writers, of any sort of romance, are still women, and the misconceptions about male romance writers are still as numerous, maddening and absurd as the misconceptions about women writing M/M fiction.

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Ta!