Genres…

I’ve written about them before, and how I often feel they are as constricting as a straight-jacket to us authors. Yet I also realize that they are needed to guide people, to help readers find books they might enjoy, to help book retailers (online and offline) to structure their content.

The Epilogue in this novel has had typical M/M
readers enraged. HE? yes. HEA? No. Some
think this is my best book ever, others hate it
because of the epilogue. What’s your take?

 It’s also essential to us authors to find the right groups of readers to market our books to, because we all know that “spray and pray” only works for those largest of household brands, but not literature.

Yesterday, I noted a discussion on Facebook about a “plea” from a man in the UK who wishes for the readers of “M/M” books to also consider reading what he calls “gay literature”. Some of you may not be familiar with the term “M/M”, but it is basically (no offense intended if I generalize) love stories involving two men that are predominantly read by women. Those stories usually (there are obviously more exceptions than I could ever try to mention) revolve around the same principle: He meets he, one of the guys is usually straight at the outset or at least a complete virgin in all things sex, they overcome many obstacles to find each other and love eternal. These stories MUST have what is called a HEA (happily ever after) ending. There is always plenty of sex in each chapter. The depiction of the characters in these stories is often stereotypical (I’m being kind), one of the men often carrying female traits (demeanor, position and “voice”) while the other often is very “manly”. The sex is rarely even remotely realistic. It’s fantasy, and to a gay man in the real world I feel as objectified through those stories as many women feel objectified in straight porn. Both are fantasies, at least in M/M no human beings are ever hurt.

These books are read by the gazillion, it is a huge industry, the prices of these books are often much higher than what real literature charges, and there are hundreds of authors living comfortably off of their writing.

The blog post by Martin Davies is a plea to readers of such M/M books to also consider reading other books involving gay characters, that which he questionably (?) calls gay literature. I question the label as there is no equivalent of ‘straight literature’, and I’m not sure the label ads anything to the quality of the stories, but I concede to the point I make in the very beginning, that even I use the LGBT label to “market” my books.

All my books are very different, and this, my first,
is probably the most “different” one, as it is so
strongly based in my own life and biography.

Naturally, assuming that the M/M reader is gay friendly, is a stretch, as much as it is a stretch to assume that men watching lesbian porn are gay friendly. That is of course a possibility, but certainly not a 1-1 correlation. As one of the commentators stated on Facebook yesterday:

“Gay books offer something entirely different and I suspect would not be anywhere near as attractive to the female reader who likes MM books. It sounded a little bit too much of a whine – try my books out too – than I’d have liked to see. He’s never going to see women wholeheartedly embracing books with no HEA when they want to be taken out of their everyday lives and entertained. I will read anything (almost). I have no problem reading gay books – but they fulfil a different need to a romance. BUT yes, I can see his point that if we read or write MM books, we should be supporting those LGBT writers who write slightly different stories. But then you could also say – why don’t we support writers of other minority interests.”

Someone else wrote:

“I completely agree with Martin’s point about the need to read gay fiction, but that is not why most of these people are reading M/M.”

And finally, summarizing it all:

No, no HEA here either. Or as my editor said, no “neatly
tied bows at the end”, but there is hope, hope that Raphael
and Micky will be able to make it, and that Brian’s future
is bright.

“As most of the readers of gay books are women we prefer HEA not a book with a shit end. I think the reality of my life of what i go thru daily its enough. I want to read something light, sexy and funny. And bout giving thoughts about the reality of gay people when a men will know to write a proper m/m book nd i will be interested to read it maybe i will think of it dif but not when 99% of my fave m/m books are wrote by ladies.”

As you can see, opinions are all over the place. I for one try to look at this from a balanced point of view, which is difficult because there are so many stereotypes, e.g. that a book is gay because it’s written by an LGBT author. I beg to differ. The author of Brokeback Mountain isn’t gay, yet her book is, and I know plenty of gay authors (e.g. Thomas Mann, Christopher Isherwood) who wrote plenty of straight books.

In the end, while I wholeheartedly agree with Martin that it would be great if more people read gay literature (I would even go so far as to claim that it would be good if people read more, period!), including my own, I don’t think that his approach will work. As little as the viewers of porn will watch a chick flick to “mix things up”, as little will women who look for an escape from reality (by their own admission) read literary novels which tackle social issues, as e.g. I do in my novels. If all you want is to be entertained on route to the inevitable ending which is as clear as fresh water from the first page, then you’re not going to read a book where you don’t know how it ends.

A hopeful ending because I believe in the good of
humanity. We can be better than we are!

I often wonder how authors choose to write their books, and I recently had a an interesting debate with my editor about the ending of “The Fallen Angels of Karnataka”. She felt that I could’ve ended the book a few chapter earlier, leaving things to the imagination of the reader. Ultimately I decided to keep the ending as I had written it. Why? She and I have different styles and preferences, and while her own books may almost end mid-sentence, I want to end my books on a positive, hopeful note. I do so because it is the sort of book I read, and I do understand the points made above about “escape”, “HEA” and what not. I, too, am aware that there is plenty of negativity out there in the news, and I do believe that books can provide an escape. however, I don’t believe that literature should avoid shining a light on those issues, quite the contrary. But I also don’t think that as authors we shouldn’t provide possible solutions, that we shouldn’t provide hope.

Thing is, M/M is a very particular genre in the world of literature, just as pornography is in the world of film. No one is being served by comparing either to other genres within the same medium. I understand that this was not Martin’s intention, but his plea was obviously understood as such by readers. I think people should read whatever they wish to read, just as authors should write whatever they wish to write. It is very dangerous to compare, as one might assume that “M/M” is rubbish which isn’t my point. There’s great M/M and there is despicably horribly bad M/M. That is not the point. But comparing apples to pears to grapefruits serves no purpose, even though all are fruit. Different forms of literature have different aims, purposes, and as long as we have freedom of speech, they should find their way to the readers.

Personally I believe that there is still hope for humanity, and rather than providing an “escape” from reality, I try to offer an outlook of what we can do, if only we set our mind to it. Yes, the world can be a miserable place, but I don’t see escaping it a viable longterm solution. Let’s face it and make it a better place, together. That is as close to a program statement from this author you’ll ever get… In the meantime, I’ll read a good M/M every now and then, too. They are very entertaining, although, for a gay man, for somewhat different reasons…

If you are an M/M reader, I would invite you to try one of my books. You may not get a HEA, but I promise you that you’ll need plenty of tissue paper (for tears! Get your mind out of the gutter!) and I guarantee a warm and fuzzy feeling at the end… If you’re not, try one anyway, you might be surprised how much fun it is to read again, and discover what your imagination can do with a few simple words on pristine white paper.

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