Thursday, June 26, 2014

What's Gay Got To Do With It?

Since June is Gay Pride Month, this seems to be a perfect time for me to talk about some of my frustrations regarding the reading and writing of LGBT inclusive fiction. What really bugs me is that gay fiction seems to now be synonymous with gay romance. The funny thing is, I know a hell of a lot of gay men. About 99% of those men never read gay romance. It isn't just the fact that much of it is written in a style (m/m romance, which is quite different than gay) which caters to women (i.e. one alpha male, one "chick with a dick" and a strict following of all the tropes that go along with the romance genre). It's also because, at least by what they tell me, these guys just don't enjoy romance novels. Not surprising. M/M isn't very true to what most gay relationships are like. It is how most WOMEN hope romantic relationships could be like. Most straight men don't read romance for that same reason. That's not a knock against romances. They are a valid, wonderful genre. They just aren't all encompassing, and it's sad to see "gay fiction" be seen as one and the same.

So, then we get to the problem of how to market gay fiction that either:
a. deals with gay struggle/issues and gay history or
b. has gay main/side characters throughout the book, but the focus is on the story, not their sex life. There may be sex, and even romance, in the story. It could be graphic. It just wouldn't be the sole storyline.

As an author, I can select "gay fiction" or "lesbian fiction" or "LGBT" depending on the book vendor. But, truly, what does that tell a reader? Absolutely nothing when it comes to the type of story it is. Why should a book be categorized by gender preferences? I've noticed there isn't a "straight fiction" category. Of course not! So, shouldn't stories with gay characters by put in the mystery, thriller, fantasy, etc categories instead? That way EVERYONE has a chance to read that story instead of focusing on who the main character might be interested in for a personal relationship.

The description can be used to let people know the main character is gay, and so can keywords. People searching for gay fiction will type in that keyword and the book will still come up. There is nothing lost by putting books in the genre categories they belong in and not wasting one on gender preference. After all, the category doesn't show up until you get to the book page. Once someone has typed in "gay fiction" and your book comes up, now they can look at the categories or read the description and see it is a mystery. Or a fantasy. Or historical.  Cool!

I do have a couple of the Gastien books listed as gay drama. That makes sense, as the storyline is about the history of gays in the mid-twentieth century, and about the struggle. I also think it makes sense to have a "gay romance" category, but last time I looked Amazon had done away with it. Maybe it will come back. I hope so.

Right now, "gay fiction" being seen as "romance" is doing a disservice to readers. Because it is so widely believed that gay fiction is always a romance, many fabulous works of gay fiction get overlooked. Ever read Brandon Shire's "Listening to Dust" or "The Value of Rain"? If not, you've missed out on two to the most gripping, gut-wrenching novels ever written.How about Andrew Ashling's "Randamor the Recluse" series (divided up between the "Invisible Chains" 3 books and the "Invisible Hands" 3 books, 4th coming), his evilly funny "Just Don't Mess With Us" or his disturbingly possible "A Dish Served Cold"? No? You're missing out on one of the best story tellers out there. "The Cool Part of His Pillow" by Rodney Ross has biting humor and is the story of one man coping with his long time partner's death at mid-life. I don't know why he has it listed as a romance. There isn't a romance in there (the romance took place in the past), and the story is wonderful.It's a great book I bet you'd enjoy. I also recently read "The Statue" by Zathyn Priest. This novelette was well-written and engrossing. He's a new author to me. I'm going to try another after I finish the novel I'm currently reading. I strongly suspect I've found yet another talented gay fiction writer.

There are many more, I'm sure. And I'm going to find them. Why? Because I love drama and angst. I like a book to make me think and feel. To stay with me for months after I put it down. For some reason, gay fiction writers who write non-romance gay fiction provide those things better than most other writers out there today. Many authors cater to what's "in" and that isn't what I like to read. I understand doing that, and may do that in my next series. We all need to pay the mortgage. But it's unfortunate that too much gay fiction is overlooked because people tend to think it's all sex and romance so they don't read it-especially gay men!

My current continuing saga, There Was a House (House of Pleasure, House of Pain and House of Trickery are out. House of Shame, the final book will come out in later summer) are the same way. A gay teen-age boy shares MC status with a straight teenage girl. It's a psychological thriller about sex trafficking. His gender preference for a romantic partner has absolutely NOTHING to do with a story  like that. The fact that he is gay has a lot to do with why he ended up dumped at a whorehouse by his father, and why people tend to see him as a stereo-type, allowing him to form a plan of devastating revenge. What's gay got to do with it? In his case, one hell of a lot. Still, I elected not to waste a category on "LGBT". It's keyworded, though. But I felt the two categories it's in were more importnat in portraying what type of story it is.

A great thriller is a great thriller. A fabulous historical is, well, a fabulous historical. Authors', let's not diminish these facts by categorizing books simply as "gay" and making people guess what they're about. We only get two categories on Amazon. People will find you by keywords if "gay" is important to them. Use those keywords to both your and your readers advantage.
Readers, you can help, too. If you want gay fiction that isn't romance, type in "gay fiction"  or "gay thriller", etc and then read the description, look at the categories on the book page, read the sample, read the reviews. Some great novels are waiting for you...and you don't have to want romance and happy ever after in order to find it in  gay fiction.

Do you have favorite gay fiction novels that aren't only romance? I'd love to hear from you with the author name and title!

Caddy Rowland is a novelist and painter. Her social media links follow.
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  1. While I don't fully agree with the post, what I do find frustrating is the whole: gay fiction = m/m romance, End of.
    My novella trilogy Black Sheep has a mostly LGBT main cast and is not listed as romance anywhere because it isn't. If you'd change some genders in the story and make it straight it would fall under "teen issue book about depression, healing from abusive relationships and terminal illness". But because my MCs are gay, suddenly the story is a romance and I get starred down a LOT because it's not a HEA or even a romance plot. Eh, DUH. That was never the point of the story.
    Sure, there are some love plots througout the story, that happens, that happens in real life. They are there because they fit the story. But they are never the main focus of the story. The main focus is how a group of family and friends deal with very difficult issues after a trauma.
    But that can never be apparently, because my MC = gay = romance story.

  2. Excellent post. One of the better I've seen on this subject. Yeah, as a gay man, I like a little romance in my story but the tropes of "romance" don't really work for me as a reader or a writer. And as you said, nothing wrong with romance, just different strokes for different folks. ;)

    1. Stephen, thanks for reading my post and for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it.

  3. Caddy, I've seen you on KBoards plenty of times, and the covers for your books. It never occurred to me you were writing work with gay characters in it. I assumed, from the covers of the Gastien series, that they were straight romances.

    The novel you've described above, with the twin protagonists, sounds great, right up my alley.

    Recommendations on gay fiction that isn't romance? I could go on forever. I'll choose five:

    The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

    Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim

    Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman

    The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal

    Forbidden Colors by Yukio Mishima

    1. Todd, thanks for the recommendations. I promise I will check them out. I'm writing them down. Interesting that you got "romance" out of my covers. Only one would qualify, and that is the last, which is gay (not m/m). I was going to historical, although they have some strong love stories within. I will have to see if more people say they scream "romance"...if so it's a problem. Anyway, nice to see you here, I know you from kboards, too!

    2. Here another "vote" for thinking your books were romance...