My first real romance was "The wolf and the Dove" by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, the undisputed Queen of Romance (that is MY cover I uploaded here, with the original cover art by Robert E. McGinnis). I loved that book and re-read it many times, as well as "Defy Not the Heart" by Johanna Lindsey, one of the few classic savage romance where there is a gay supporting character, the servant of the heroine, I always wondered what the story of that character was and found him more interesting than the real heroine (again I uploaded my orginal cover, with cover art by Elaine Duillo). From these two titles you can say that I liked strong men and witty heroines. I also read many Harlequin Presents, I do not remember when I started, how and why, but I remember that my favourite authors were Diana Palmer and Linda Howard, Diana Palmer is famous for her “virgin” heroine and her Long Tall Texan and Linda Howard is also a very good suspence writer.
From 13 to 23 years old I read a lot and everything, filling the house of books of all possible formats, but ever and only in Italian. Then, due to my work, I moved in another city and honestly I stopped reading at all, not just romance, for many years. When I started again my needs were different and the romance I was used to read, didn't interest me no more. I tried the paranormal genre, in English since in Italy it didn't exist, and I certainly found something I liked, as for the Carpathians by Christine Feehan, and the Dark Hunters by Sherrilyn Kenyon, but still, after a bit I 'lost' interest. Then a friend "challenged" me to read an M/M romance (Crossing the Lines by Stephanie Vaughan), and I found a new world, I finally found something that really attracted me, because was a new world, in turmoil and very active.
When I say "new", really I diminish this phenomenon, which exists since years. But we must make a distinction because recently two different worlds, Slash Fiction and Yaoi Romance, mixed and linked two things that have completely different roots.
The Slash Fiction is part of the 'Fan Fiction': budding writers, or ordinary fans, love to write about possible developments in the story between their favourite characters, usually main characters of a movies or novels. There are fanfiction movements very thriving on Harry Potter, Star Trek, Smallville and Dr. House. Probably the first fanfiction was Slash Fiction (but you can correct me, I’m just supposing): the fans of Star Trek wondered what would have happened between Captain Kirk and Dr Spock. And a new world was born and was probably the seed of gay romance: books written by women for women, with all male characters. There is a strong difference between the gay romance and gay novels, which often are written by men, mostly gay, and with a strong biographical connotation. Perhaps the gay novels are even too true to be appreciated by the women who read the gay romance, even if some gay novel authors, like Victor J. Banis and William Maltese, were rediscovered by women. On the other hand, there are few gay men who appreciate the gay romance, because they consider it too "commercial" and not "real": some gay novels authors tried to make the leap into the world of gay romance, as Bobby Michaels, and doing so they brought along some readers. Many authors, men, point to the fact that, even if not openly, all men, gay, bisexual and heterosexual, seek and need romance.
It can be simplicity, but I often find that the Gay Novels don’t have an happily ever after; that strong biographical component often makes them sad, as if to prove that the natural evolution of gay life is like so; in the ’60 and ’70 gay writers like Victor J. Banis broke the “unsaid” boundaries, and wrote “happy” gay characters. Authors like Gordon Merrick are still today remembered since they gave an happily ever after to their heroes. But despite all this, the majority of Gay Novels still haven’t a real romance in it. In this regards, Gay Romance and Het Romance are not so different: it seems that a novel to be mainstream has to deny the romance component, since romance is NOT high literature.
Once I asked to Bobby Michaels how his male readers approached the romance part of his books, since I had the wrong idea that he added a romance component to his books to reach a different target, the female readers. “I still have saved on my computer my favorite e-mail from a reader. It says, “I have a hard on and I’m crying. What do I do now?” Personally I think that all Males, gay straight or bi, want and need romance. Even on Nifty, I have readers who tell me that they skip the sex scenes entirely to read the story.”
And since I’m quite obtuse in my beliefs, I asked to William Maltese if he wrote in a different way for male or female readers. “As I’m a firm believer that every guy has his feminine side, and every gal has her masculine side, I never did really try consciously to change my writing style when writing “for” men, “for” women, “for” gays, “for straights”. That said, I do tend to make men more blustery, more aggressive, more apt to use swear words. I do make women more polite, more sensitive, less likely to get angry, less apt to do something without first thinking about it. And (all boasting aside), I seem to have done a good job of “universal” writing, because I never have been called out for writing too “butch”, or for writing “too much like a girl.” I have been accused (by heterosexual women) of being gay; how else could I so “successfully plumb the female psyche” (although what “being gay” and “female psyche” have to do with one another is beyond me).”
Why I love gay romance? I think there is a strong component of feminism in all this. In the history of romance, there was a trend that has seen the woman turned from object to subject of her destiny, hence the increasingly strong heroines, but that, in some cases, even bother the reader: as Laura Kinsale points out in her contribution to the essay "Dangerous Men, Adventurous Women", the female reader does not identify herself with the female heroine, but with the male hero, and then, sometimes, almost feels "nuisance" against the woman in the book. In addition, in recent years, women start to "see" the man more and more like a sex object, and thus the natural beauty is essential. So what's better than a romance where there is no annoying heroine, but there are two great heroes?
So apparently the Gay Romance is a thriving genre, and appeals to different targets for different reasons. What certainly we do know is that the reality of Gay romance is very strong and in continuous growth: the notorious New York publishers, like Kensington, St. Martin's Press and Running Press, opened specific lines for the genre; innovative epus like Loose Id, Samhain Publishing and Amber Allure have one quarter of their production in gay romance; other epubs specialized only in gay romance, like Torquere Books, MLR Press and Dreamspinner Press. Only two years ago Laura Baumbach saw her pamphlets removed from a stand at the Romantic Times Convention from the same organization she paid for being there, and last year at the annual conference of the Romance Writers of America, Shayla Kersten saw her gay romance, The Cost of Eternity, on the tables of the annual Booksigning for charity, and finally this year, the RWA approved a new chapter devoted to Gay and Lesbian Romance Writers. Do you see a positive trend in all this?
I don't know what will happen in the next years but I hope to be there to see and enjoy the change.
Meanwhile, you can find me at: http://elisa-rolle.livejournal.com/