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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