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?
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…)