Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Original Sinners and the mixing of m/m romance in mainstream fiction


I'm gonna talk briefly about something that I don't think comes up too often here on Cafe Risque: het erotica. Bear with me, I have a reason. Well, a few reasons.

While mixing male/male romance in mainstream het fiction isn't new, it's still fairly rare. And I see misinformation about this in the romance community. Some readers seem to think that the author was holding back out of personal fear or something along those lines. The thing that mass-market production has that epulishing doesn't, is a print run. And we all know building a readership can take time, unless you're one of those authors who's lucky enough to publish a fabulous lightning strike of a book that sells a bajillion copies. Readers can be put off by anything from a male character with foreskin to one who cheats or has a beard: in mass market your publisher will be loathe to let you do anything that they think may harm sales. Once you have a contract, these things can be tricky to negotiate. It's not about the author being stubborn or a pansy.

SO when I see an author who's worked male/male into mainstream romance, and who has done it well, I'm pleased and impressed. My opinion is that it helps to raise the level of awareness in our genre for more and more readers who might not have tried male/male romance before. What used to be a niche genre isn't so much any more. IMO, that's good.

The latest series I'm into for a number of reasons is The Original Sinners Series by Tiffany Riesz. And let's be clear: I don't read BDSM, I don't read erotica. I like the safety of the HEA that comes with romance, and kink is fine but it's written badly often enough that I usually prefer not to take the chance. I don't even try writing it very much because I've never lived the lifestyle and I'm afraid I might do it wrong (outside of my short story Yes, Sir which was vetted by someone did live the lifestyle for a long time).

I got into the series after the first book, The Siren, went on sale for .99 cents. Let's face it, a lot of people will try a book they wouldn't try otherwise if it goes on sale. Now, the writing was beautiful  Gorgeous. Philosophical  dark, twisted. Oh, yes, and the sex is hot. Even if there are lady parts and guy parts mixed together. ;) The first book is almost entirely het sex. There's a little bit of love triangle-ish stuff, and we do briefly meet a bisexual male character, but he doesn't have any on-page love scenes in this one. What I've learned about Harlequin (Reisz's publisher) is that they don't dig much on secondary characters OR well, gay romance--again, this is largely about sales. Lori Foster, another bestseller, has released a male/male novella with Harlequin . Harlequin is kind of the Ma Bell of romance publishing, and they kick it old school.

BUT

The Siren has since outsold 50 Shades of Grey (ka-ching). Book 2, The Angel, actually gives almost equal page time to Griffin (the bisexual Dom introduced in book 1) and The Angel, a barely legal teen named Michael. Interestingly enough? The heroine, Nora, her story is a little up in the air at the end of the book. Again, it's erotica, she doesn't have to have a happy ending. The only people who DO get their HEA in the story are... Griffin and Michael. BTW, there IS on-page sex between the two. She also puts the occasional add-on on her blog.

So. If you flip it... In essence, Tiffany Reisz got Harlequin to publish a gay romance novel with a secondary het story line. ;) Was it calculated that way? Dunno. I presume so. Certainly could have been but either way she's my new hero. God bless that woman.

The series is really fantastically written. I admire the intelligence and elegance of her writing, the authenticity of the kink--from what I can tell as a mere voyeur in the world, anyway, and the edge of your seat pacing of the books. The world-building is strong. The relationships are complicated, disturbing sometimes. She employs tension well, which keeps the pages turning and the excitement amped.

So today's post is about two things: One, sharing a series I love that I'm guessing many in the gay romance community might not have checked out yet (frankly, I almost didn't. I assumed it was another FSOG clone and almost didn't read it, even with the .99 price tag). Two: it seems like there's this weird concern about het authors writing male/male romance, and somehow not doing justice to the genre. Again--just my opinion--but I feel like this is misplaced. Reisz's  male/male love scenes were beautifully written. Some of them were also brutal, but they were between a sadist and his lover, and it was fitting for the scene.  She fades to black on occasion but I get the sense that this is done for artistic reasons rather than squeamishness over writing about the prostate. There's definitely the whole enchilada when the enchilada is called for, yanno?

Here's the thing: most writers care about authenticity. And bad writers will be bad writers in any genre, but usually you don't get published if you suck. Particularly not in mass-market. Particularly not if you've made it to the NYT and USA Today lists.  Ditto the other authors I've read who have mingled male/male in their het. Larissa Ione, Suzanne Brockmann, JR Ward, etc. So many readers say that they came to reading male/male romance after reading (for example) JR Ward, that I feel like this mix is something we want to encourage.

So... thought for the day. Check out The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz. And give m/m in het romance a chance. :)

Happy Sunday,
Love, Ellis

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