Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Defining Gay Romance, Porn Fiction, and Gay Erotica

 Hi, this is Gavin Atlas, and Kayla is allowing me to respond to her post about m/m romance vs. gay romance as well as some of the great comments she got on that post.  How I view this may not clear anything up, but here goes.

First, why bother?  Here’s why: Defining genres and sub-genres is done to help readers find books they’d like while helping them avoid what they wouldn’t.  This usually generates sales.  One of the publishers I write for, Excessica, tells the readers if a story will have an HEA, HFN, or ambiguous ending with the intention of limiting disappointment as much as possible.  Not that it always works, but it appears that both reviewers and general readers appreciate the tactic.  

DC Juris commented on Kayla’s post that m/m romance and gay romance are more alike than not.  I agree.  Although I’m not a publisher nor am I someone generally considered a romance writer,  from my training as an editor, publicist, and reviewer I can say that in publishing, to truly be a romance, there pretty much has to be a Happily Ever After ending—otherwise I suspect most (but not all) publishers would say it's not truly a romance.  Also, getting to that HEA is the primary conflict or goal of the story, not a subplot.  So no matter what subcategory of romance your story is placed in, I imagine the same bulwarks of the genre will have to be present. 

What Kayla noticed is that some readers are going to want to see gay relationships that are solidly built over time and portrayed as monogamous, and she labeled that as M/M romance.  Okay, sure. Why not?  I think that label would be helpful (or so I imagine) and if it's decided that "gay romance" is a story that still has an HEA ending but is more open to a variety of sexual situations, possibly more explicit on average, and less concerned with monogamy, then okay— that will help some readers find what they want or know what they want to avoid which, again, is probably the whole point of worrying over what belongs where.  

By the way, I don’t want to ignore the fact that for some, terms like “M/M erotica” or “Gay erotica” carry some socio-political connotations when I don’t think that was ever the intention.  What I’m imagining (and have heard) is that the term “M/M” denies the gay identity and is therefore inherently homophobic because it represents what the majority wants us to be like instead of what we are.  I’ve also heard the counter argument that “M/M” encompasses a much wider array of identities and is actually more inclusive than exclusory.  That sounds more plausible to me.   Personally, I have to say “Really?  Women (and men) who write about loving relationships between men and calling it ‘M/M romance’ are being insensitive and insulting?”  I can’t say the negative attitude towards the term “M/M” is 100% wrong, but if there is any truth that M/M romance is somehow bad for gay men, I haven’t seen it.  So for argument’s sake, let’s say both terms are positive ones and can be useful to readers, writers, and publishers. 

Defining genres sharply is never going to be a perfect system, especially for erotica authors and readers and, nearly to the same degree, for writers and readers of non-erotic romance.  As the internet shrinks the divide between author and reader, it’s become clear to writers that “squicks” and turn-ons are so individualized that what one person considers wonderful erotic romance is another person’s DNF trash.  Because a squick is usually such a strong gut reaction, readers are probably going to have more interest in avoiding something they don’t want to read in erotic fiction than, say, a cozy mystery or historical fiction.   So erotica authors have more landmines to navigate than writers in many other genres.  

This brings me to where D.C. Juris referred to sex writing where there is no romance “required, implied, or expected” as “Stroke Fiction”.  I’m going to call that “porn,” but it might also be called “erotica” or “literary erotica.”  Here’s why:  

I think it was author Lars Eighner who said something like the following:  "The goal of pretty much any other genre of fiction is to tell a story.  The goal of porn is to arouse the reader.” I think the difference between porn and erotica is that in erotica, you have to both tell a story and arouse the reader. 

Meanwhile, I think publisher Steve Berman once said that with literary fiction, the author is trying to "either enlighten the reader or move the reader emotionally" so for literary erotica, it would make sense if that meant the author needs to either enlighten the reader or move the reader emotionally as well as tell a story as well as arouse the reader.  (By the way, I agree with Erastes in her comment that the definition of “literature” keeps changing, and it can mean different things to everyone who uses the word.)

Here’s another asterisked observation:  I can really only speak as a short story writer, and I think the majority of readers would agree that for a romance to be successful, the relationship has to develop over time which means the author will want to show the connection grow steadily (or not so steadily) in a longer format like a novella or novel instead of a short story.  Meanwhile, porn stories are often brief encounters and, in my opinion, are more suited to short fiction instead of a novel.  

So there you have it:  “Porn,” “Erotica,” and “Literary Erotica” defined to the best of my ability with an attempt at how authors or publishers might divide “M/M romance” and “Gay romance” to guide readers toward what they want.  But wait, there’s more…

I suspect the main difference between who reads and writes "erotic romance" and who reads and writes "porn" may change, and here's why:  Magazines like Honcho, Mandate, and Torso used to be some of primary sources of gay porn fiction, and their customers were probably more interested in the photos than the fiction.  Though there were some all-story magazines, in general, these markets usually wanted stories shorter than 3000 words and got to the sex before 1000 words.  Yep. The goal was to arouse the reader and get him aroused quickly before he went back to the photos of “Falcon Video’s New Bottom Discovery”.   

Now I only wrote one story for the magazines before they began to shut down, and writers younger than me are going to have even less reason to write for readers who are mostly interested in naked pictures and want hot encounters instead of complete story arcs. While Advocate Men and Freshmen still want fiction, most readers and writers who want gay "porn stories" or “erotica” will now go to anthologies from editors like Neil Plakcy, Shane Allison, Jerry Wheeler, Richard Labonte, Cecilia Tan, Fred Towers, and so forth. (These editors and others are developing niches so you’ll know which ones to pick up if you want something more romantic, something more raw, something more experimental, something speculative, etc.)  Because there's really no visual stimulus except for the cover photo, these readers must have picked up the book for verbal stimulation, right?  Thus, readers are going to be much more interested in getting an actual story and, I bet, more and more writers are going to be adapting.   It may not be romantic, it may not end happily, but I suspect with greater frequency you'll be finding developed characters and a complete story arc for them.  And I bet nine times out of ten that will make what's hot much hotter.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

M/M Romance or Gay Literature: What's the Big Deal?

What's the big deal any way? They are just two different names for the same thing, aren't they?

A resounding "No!" will be your response from the readers of gay fiction. While readers and authors of m/m romances often mistakenly use the terms interchangeably. Only the gay lit reader or author seems to know there is a difference.

And this is where the trouble begins. Gay literature enthusiasts are looking for a specific genre. They aren't interested in sweet little HEA stories. They want something that reflects the reality of their lives and don't care to read something they feel is an artificial construct catering to the sensibilities of a female audience. These readers can be very vocal in their criticism of m/m romance. Not to be outdone, m/m readers can likewise be critical of a perceived romance that isn't very romantic.

Gay literature is rarely romantic. It tends to be edgier, raw. The protagonists are men looking for a hook up. Sometimes it turns into more, but that is not a prerequisite. Sex does not equal love in this genre. Word choices are also very different. Words and phrases get used that would never find their way into m/m fiction.

It all comes down to expectations. The reader was expecting one genre and got the other. The gay lit reader knows what he wants, but a m/m story has been incorrectly labeled as a gay romance or thriller, etc. The m/m reader thinks gay lit is just another term for m/m romance.

And the flame war is on. Women are ruining gay lit. Men think they are the only ones who should write anything m/m. Why are are things drawn along gender lines? Because each gender has different expectations, wants and needs. That is not to say that members from each group can't cross the line in the sand or on the paper.

I know men who read and write m/m fiction. I know women who prefer to read gay lit, but can rarely write it themselves. I know authors whose pen names are different genders depending on what they are writing. It's all in the perception.

Readers and writers alike would be happier, if everyone understood the difference in the genres. Just a look at some of the reviews on Goodreads should convince people of this. Reviewers who say, "I would have given this a higher rating, but..." Either the story was an unrealistic portrayal of men, or it was just sex without any redeeming qualities, ie romance.

I am an author of m/m fiction. I will likely never be in a position where I can claim to be an author of gay lit. So you gentleman who like a nice romance are more than welcome to read my stories. For the men who prefer gay lit, I welcome your input, but I won't be offended if you don't care for my fluffy sweet little bit of fantasy. I am capable of writing edgier stories, but my female audience wanted more dialog and felt that I was being crude. One of my male readers asked if I had been a man in a previous life.

However you will never find the shy blushing virgin in any of my stories and no one ruins the afterglow by going to get a wet washcloth only to lob it back to the bathroom where it makes an unglamorous splat. I don't know any men who do that in real life. Roll over and go to sleep? Decide they must eat something right this second? Yes, but none of them were ever the fastidious type. So ladies, don't expect the men in m/m to act in a fashion that your own man won't.

It's all in the perceptions and expectations of your audience. We as writers should remember this and not confuse the reader with the incorrect label for our works.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Steaming It Up With Steampunk

About a year ago, I published my first Dreamspinner Press story – an erotic steampunk set in a modern day “old west” where men are men and steam is steam.

I’ve been fascinated with steampunk for as long as I can remember.  I didn’t always call it by this name, but it’s been around in some form or another for many years.  I love not only the historical aspect, but also the super sexy outfits!  It is a perfect genre in which to set an erotic romance.

Officially, steampunk is s a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternative history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s that involves a setting where steam power is still widely used.  (There are many resources for steampunk – I pulled this definition from Wikipedia).  Although many steampunk stories are set in Victorian England, or similar setting, my story is set in an alternate western reality.

THE OUTLAW tells the story a Damian Junter – a Bringer who works for the Eastern Aristocracy.  Damian’s job is to bring the guilty to justice.  He is judge, jury, and executioner for those accused of violating crimes against the East.  Damian’s mission takes him to the farthest reaches of the West.  In Terra Noir, Damian discovers much more than he bargained for – the man he is sent to kill, Kell Laughlin, is innocent.  Kell also stirs passions in Damian he has tried a lifetime to avoid – sexual feelings forbidden in the East.

Here’s an excerpt:
 The steel beast floated just above the wooden tracks.

When the engine started, it sounded more like the bellow of a monster than the hiss of steam. The hull of the beast was coated with a three-inch layer of dark gray soot and had long ago lost its luster, the once-brilliant shade of red now completely obscured. Black windows kept onlookers from seeing who was riding the locomotive, no view from within or without.

That suited Damian Junter just fine.

“Are you coming aboard, sir?” The shrill voice of the conductor was enough to make Damian’s skin crawl. It seemed to Damian as if the conductor was trying to burrow straight through his Italian leather trench coat with those beady eyes. He eyed Damian suspiciously in an attempt to figure out Damian’s past, present, and future—all in a single glance.

Apparently the conductor had never seen a Bringer before. If he had, he wouldn’t be so skeptical of the hulking man boarding the train. Compared to the thin and lanky conductor, Damian was Herculean. Ripped in hard muscle from head to toe, Damian was a force to be reckoned with to anyone unlucky enough to be placed on his hit list.

The black leather, itself coated in a black dust similar to the soot coating the train, strained over Damian’s broad chest. His massive forearms bulged from beneath the tight sleeves, undulating with each movement he made. His thick thighs threatened to burst from the skin-tight pants.

“Yes.” He handed the scrawny man his ticket.

“Traveling far?” the conductor asked.

“Yes.” Damian was going to the outermost reaches of the west, to the Pacific coast, farther than he’d ever traveled. But he only gave single-word answers to strangers. It was better that way. The less they knew about his travels, the safer they’d be.

The conductor looked disgruntled by the lack of information but let Damian pass. With a paying fare, there wasn’t much the man could do. Refusing him passage would be tantamount to theft. Not that Bringers punished average eastern folks, even if they violated the law.

A Bringer’s purpose was far loftier.

Damian climbed aboard the steel ship. If he were wearing anything but black, the soot would have left a permanent mark. But black hid everything.

And not just dirt. Even though Damian’s clothes were stretched over his massive frame, they nevertheless obscured the weapons fastened to his thighs and ankles. Most Bringers hid the tools of their trade in their luggage when they traveled. Not Damian. He was too brash, too confident for that.

Damian was not like most Bringers. He considered himself to be the Bringer. The best.

Damian had exacted more justice and taken down more outlaws in his time on the force than all other Bringers. Combined. He’d been on the front line since he was old enough to hold a gun straight and fire.

How long had it been? Two decades? Three? He’d lost track. Days melted into months that melted into years. One job after another. Bringing justice to the world, one outlaw at a time.

Being a Bringer was a job Damian loved. Hell, he cherished it. In Damian’s eyes, he did more for the country than any of the politicians of the east. Officials passed laws, spoke on boxes, made promises. But Damian made the world a safer place. Only justice could do that.

And Damian relished bringing justice.

He moved quickly down the row of seats. His long, black trench coat whipped the sides of his legs with each step he took. His knee-length, metal-heeled leather boots clinked against the steel floor of the train. Passengers, already seated and ready for the beast to fly, looked toward him with fear in their eyes.

Unlike the conductor, these people knew a Bringer when they saw one. Even men who’d never made a mistake in their lives feared Bringers. They’d quake in their polished, patent leather shoes and wet themselves at the slightest hint that a Bringer might be coming their way.

The aura of dread that accompanied the presence of a Bringer was one of the key elements of their success. No one dared disobey the ones who doled out justice, lest they find themselves on the wrong end of a Bringer’s gun.

The metal monster roared to life, and spires of dark gray steam billowed through the air. Damian’s body lurched when the engine jutted forward. He grabbed the side of one of the seats to keep from falling over.

The woman next to him gasped and looked at him with her big, blue eyes. “Pardon me, my dear sir.”

“Sorry, ma’am.” He tilted his leather Stetson in her direction. He might be able to make a grown man cry, but Damian was still a gentleman.

She batted her eyes. “Would you like to join me?” The look of fear she’d shared with the other passengers just moments before melted away and was replaced by a look of lust.

Women always reacted to Damian that way. The combination of the panic he prompted and the power he exuded was more than the female mentality could withstand, especially when confronted with his ruggedly handsome good looks.

Every woman Damian had ever been with had commented on his long black hair and how they liked the way it smoothed over their skin when he fucked them. They would remark about his green eyes, often referring to their emerald appearance. They swooned over his muscular build.

Not that he cared. He’d never found a woman yet that caught his fancy. He fucked them, but he didn’t much enjoy it.

“Thank you.” He took the seat next to the window and stared at the countryside as it shifted slowly by. Dirty, black buildings gave way to green-grassed landscapes. The gray sky was replaced by blue. Soon, even the beauty of the eastern outlands would be gone, only brown rock and dirt in its place.

The metal beast glided easily over the rugged land, guided by the rails several feet below the unnecessary wheels. But the train did not move quickly enough for Damian’s tastes. He wanted nothing more than to get to the badlands and start his next assignment. The urge to bring justice was nearly overwhelming. He cursed under his breath.

One of the most common comments I received from readers is that they’d wished THE OUTLAW was longer – that the Damian’s and Kell’s story and their battle against the East had been more fully developed.
I had always intended on THE OUTLAW  to be the first in a series.  It may have taken me a while, but I’m super excited to reveal that the second novella in the series will be released soon by Dreamspinner Press. 

Here is an unofficial blurb:
After months of hiding out in the badlands of the west with his lover Kell, Damian finally returns to the Outlander stronghold of Terra Noir to plan a war against the east.  With the tide of pubic opinion turning against the corrupt Statesman Pauline, the Outlanders make the only move they can for peace – revolution. 

Although both sides are equipped with steam-powered mechanical beasts – only one side will prevail.  But more than a revolution against the Aristocracy is being fought.  Damian must battle his own demons too.  Damian must learn whether hot sex and battle are enough to keep him with Kell, forever.

I don’t yet have a cover to share – but as soon as I do Kayla will be the first to know!

Mahalo to Kayla for having me.  Damian and Kell are my two favorite characters out of all that have come to visit me in my writing cave – I hope you enjoy them as much as me!

To learn more about the Bringer and the Outlaw, please visit my website:

Monday, September 5, 2011

My First Taste of Steampunk Was Hot

The very first steampunk I read was also the very first story I beta read, Rebecca Leigh's "The Outlaw." I wasn't sure what to expect, but her story was kind of like the Full Metal Alchemist meets the Wild, Wild West. You know, the fanfict slash stories where they put Roy and Edward together. Only there was no magic in Rebecca's story, unless you mean the magic between Damian and Kell.

This guy always reminds me of Rebecca's Damian. I think she says that he reminds her of Kell. Either way, one hot dude! Two hot dudes when Rebecca gets through with them. All worked up, hot and bothered...

"The Outlaw" is all about how these two hot blooded boys met. It covers what is obviously only the beginning of their story. I wanted more as I'm sure many others did as well.

And I must say that I was thrilled to be given the chance to beta read "The Revolutionary." Let me just say that these hot men continue to tear up the sheets, each other and anyone who stands in their way.

"The Revolutionary" is due to be released soon. I will update the release date as soon as I know what it is.