ht_murray: little girl, cheeks, blue rose (Default)
[personal profile] ht_murray
M/M Fiction. Am I Doing Anyone Any Favors?

I don’t really know where this post came from. I suspect it’s been brewing for awhile, though, judging by the beating my lawn took when it all came bubbling out yesterday while I was cutting the grass. I’m not even sure what exactly this post is about, or if there’s a specific point, but I’m going to try to make one. Just hang with me, a’ight?

Generally speaking, like, general as in the world is round, except when it’s egg-shaped, and the sky is blue, except when it’s gray, this is about m/m fiction. If you’re reading this as one of my LiveJournal friends, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you linked here from somewhere else or just found it by accident, you might not. So, in a nutshell, it’s about stories in which the lead pairing is a man and another man. I write it. I read it, though not as much as I used to, and I’ve been fortunate enough to even sell some.

There are plenty of reasons that I write it. I’m not gay. I’m not a man. While some people would argue this is the exact reason why I shouldn’t be writing it, for me I enjoy the separation of not being able to put myself physically into the story. I’m probably a bad woman for admitting this, but I cannot read het romance without assuming the female lead is, on some level, a self insert of the author. It’s probably an invalid assumption. In fact, I’ll just say it is an invalid assumption, but when you’re involved in an online community where authors ‘know’ each other on a somewhat personal level, even an incorrect assumption can lead to some straight up awkwarkness. I don’t want people reading a sex scene I write and wondering if I’m writing about myself. Similarly, I don’t want to envision my friends having sex. Just... no. A friend of mine recently posted something erotic in which the lead even had her name and it might have been just a snippet but I have never been so squicked out in my life.

I’ll just add here that when the sex is written badly, I want to distance myself from it that much more. I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion that a bad reading experience has given me a Pavlovian response to the word ‘juices’ in that it makes me nauseous.

So, yes, probably the least valid reason to write m/m fiction is as a way to avoid my own gender and body issues, but there you have it.

On another level, I enjoy having new options to explore, new twists on traditional stories that I can only write by having a non-traditional pairing.

While I’ll admit that my first reaction to finding m/m fiction online was intrigue, and that I read a lot of it with kind of a stupid expression on my fact that said something like, “So, thaaaat’s how it works,” at no time since I decided to write in the genre has the purpose of my story been to write gay sex and supply free ‘porn’ to the masses. In fact, I usually envision all of my stories without any sex at all and then find I have to add one or two sex scenes just because the readers expect it to be there. There’s one exception, and that’s Nightblindness verse in which the sex is very much a focal point of the story, primarily because it’s a foil for all the problems in the main pairing’s relationship that aren’t being addressed in a healthy manner. C’mon, you can’t envision a story in which one character abuses steroids because of self-esteem issues, and, in effect, renders himself impotent and then invites his partner to seek another partner without writing the sex. But again, that’s the exception.

For all the reasons in which I choose to write m/m fiction, the one argument that has never swayed me from writing it is that homosexuality is immoral or wrong. I only mention this because I’m fairly certain that some of you who are reading this hold the opinion that it is, in fact, offensive to God. I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t value your input and opinions or that I haven’t considered what my writing says about my spiritual convictions. I did consider all those things, and here is my conclusion, in a nutshell: (Skip the next paragraph if you have anti-Christian philosophies or if you’re a Christian who cannot stand to have the word taken at anything other than face value.)

I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ and his teachings. I believe that, in his life, Jesus not only was the radical, considered immoral and heretic, but also regularly communed with people most of society would have shunned. His message was love above all else. He never passed judgment on anyone without sitting with them and talking. He never refused entry to anyone’s house or a place at their table, no matter what their status. I know what the Bible says. I also know that the men who wrote it had certain biases which are clear. Foremost, I know that when Jesus died, the veil was torn, so that every person could know God face to face, in their hearts. And when I look in my heart, I cannot condemn love, so I cannot condemn homosexuality. If you have a problem with that, then maybe you’re speaking to a different God than I am.

And that’s my sermon for the day.

I guess what all that rambling adds up to is, I write m/m fiction, and I’m not ashamed that I write it, but my friends already knew that. I would not be writing this post if that was all I had to say. It’s all been said before. There’s something weighing on my mind of late, and this is just my way of working out what it is.

And I'll be honest, I'm not sure there's a way to say the rest of this without sounding pretentious or ungrateful. I think anyone who ever aspires to have more or push to another level probably seems that way to some. I won't even argue that it's not true. Just that, these are my personal feelings and not reflections of how I feel about the genre as a whole.

Here’s the thing. I write stories. Some of my stories have romantic pairings in them, but they’re still stories. When there are pairings in my story, they’re almost always male/male pairings for all the reasons above, but at the heart of it, they’re still just stories. The characters are in conflict and the move through it. The end. Yet, as soon as I decide to include a pairing in my story, I know before I even start writing it, where I will submit it for publication and who will end up reading it. I know that these publishers are almost always looking for submissions and that I have a fairly good chance my story will get picked up. It’s satisfying, in its own right. I won’t lie. That last royalty check came in just when I needed it, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to turn my creativity into cash, but I don’t feel good knowing that my story, just based on the sexual orientation of its characters will first be characterized as gay fiction, and lastly considered as fiction.

While it’s nice to know that there’s a market for my characters, there are several things that happen to the story based on that market. My editor on “Go Fish,” commented on the fact that one of my male characters consciously alluded to snot and said that I was alienating my primarily female, straight, middle class audience by including that in the story. Thing is, knowing that character the way I do, there’s no way he wouldn’t contemplate snot. That’s just the kind of guy he is, which is why he’s so hilarious, in my opinion. But I took that out, as my editor suggested. I will never not feel like the character wasn’t compromised because of that, however.

Second... sex. As I mentioned above, the inspiration and drive of a story, for me, is not to write about sex. Most of my stories don’t have any sex in them until I make the conscious decision to sell or post them. Then, I know that the audience wants sex, so I put it in. One of the biggest criticisms reviewers gave “Go Fish,” was that it took forever for the two guys to hook up, and it was very frustrating as a reader. I think those critics would be gobsmacked to know that story never had a sex scene in it. I added the sex scene when I submitted it to the publisher, because one of the publisher’s biggest selling tools is its pepper scale in which the stories are assigned a spice rating named after a pepper based on how much sex is in it. It’s even possible to search and filter stories based on how spicy or unspicy they are rated. Knowing the readers expected sex, I put the sex in. (And one reviewer even said it was one of the best m/m sex scenes he’d read in a long while.)

But again, I don’t think it needed to be there.

All of this comes about, I think, not only because of the recent kerfluffle over whether straight women have any business writing this stuff, in fact, probably in spite of that, because I really couldn’t care less about that, but because I am listening to Neil Gaiman. I know. Right? I bought American Gods in audiobook form to listen to while I’m running. I’m not going to say I love it. I find a lot of it just vulgar and boring, but that’s not the point. The point is A) apparently because that story isn’t considered romance and doesn’t have a mostly female audience, no one apparently cares that Gaiman is flat out vulgar at times, and B) there’s a male/male love scene in it! At no time while I was deciding which Gaiman to purchase did I see any caveat that said, “Oh, by the way, there’s a gay sex scene in American Gods, just in case, you know, that bothers you.”

That story has about the same amount of sex in it as most of what I write, but that’s science fiction, and what I write is, by consensus, gay porn or erotica. Why? Because I’ve marketed it as such by submitting it to a publisher that I knew would market it as such and changing the content so that it would meet that expectation.

I sold out. Now, before I get a bunch of disparaging comments from my fellow m/m writers, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with writing and publishing m/m fiction with the intent of marketing it based on how ‘sexy’ it is. I’m saying I sold out, because I changed the story to cater to a smaller, more limited audience rather than changing it to fit a more mainstream audience because I knew I could almost guarantee a sell if I submitted it to the smaller publisher and the mainstream publishers are a lot harder sell.

I don’t regret doing that. After years writing mainstream novels and sending out the endless queries for agents and publishers only to end up with file cabinets full of rejection slips, I know first hand the battle to overcome the dreaded Un-syndrome. Unpublished. Unsolicited. Unagented. Anything I can do as a writer to strike one of those Uns from the list is to my benefit. So, I struck off the Unpublished. I now have publishing credentials no matter how small. So, no, I don’t regret doing what I did.

That doesn’t, however, mean that I’m prepared to do that with everything I write and keep churning out compromised work in favor of the guaranteed sale. I don’t think I’m doing myself or anyone else any favors.

Here’s another example: A friend and I are writing a script. It’s science fiction to the core. Government conspiracy, mind control, enhanced supersoldiers, the works. There’s probably two sex scenes in it, one het, and one male/male. However, the main pairing is the gay pairing. Despite the fact that the two leads are separated in the first ten minutes of the movie and don’t find each other again until the end, the story still very much hinges on a gay relationship. Now, we’ve heard that SyFy has been catching flack for not having enough gay content, but my friend and I both know that the chances of our female written science fiction with a gay male primary pairing will probably never see anything but a slush pile.

So, what do we do about that? Do we stop writing it now? How about we throw in ten or so more sex scenes and market it to the porn industry? After all, a five or six figure option on a movie that might never get made is still better than a script that never gets read. Money talks, right?

I’m not going to lie. I like money. I’m always wishing I had this or that, something I can’t afford. I think we all do it. But... I’m not poor. I’m not starving. I’m not going to lose my home if I don’t get that next royalty check.

Still, the farther out I get from sending in and publishing “Go Fish,” and the more involved I get with other stories which I’m sure I could market as m/m fiction and sell, the more I wonder if it would be the end of the world for me as a writer if I let that be my last submission.

On the one hand, I could churn this stuff out all day, probably gain some popularity in the m/m fiction circles if I applied myself to writing and publishing more of it. On the other hand, and especially after reading a discussion recently about how much of the m/m fiction that’s published is not very good, I wonder if I can settle for obscure and push the envelope on more mainstream markets, knowing I might never make it in. It’s kind of a test of character, I guess. As a person, the thing I’ve always valued most about myself is the ability to be straight up and tell it how I see it. I have to admit, it’s much easier to do that on the internet than in everyday life, but I’ve gotten better at it, just ask my boss. LOL. I don’t want to be In Your Face Girl and try to force my way into mainstream fiction on the platform that people should be able to look past the sexuality of the characters to see the story and then end up bitter and demoralized because it never happens.

Still, I know for a fact what I’m doing now is writing for a paycheck I don’t even really need. What’s the point in that, and just who am I benefitting?

That being said, in all likelihood, Nightblindness will be submitted and marketed as m/m fiction, despite the fact that I think the complexities in that relationship have nothing to do with the fact that the characters are men and that there is real drama in their story that’s only highlighted by the sex. There’s just... a lot of sex in that story. I don’t see any way of making it mainstream. Who knows, maybe someone who reads it as m/m fiction will see past the m/m part of it and appreciate the actual story or the writing. I can’t say how that works.

After that? Well, I don’t honestly think I have anything to say that will change the world. I have no delusions about breaking into mainstream fiction or ever supporting myself on writing alone. That’s okay. I’m a hard worker, and I have other interests, too. But on the off chance that something I write does matter to anyone but me, just in case there is something in it worth saying, I might have to consider an audience shift. Don't get me wrong, I'd still be writing male/male pairings, just presenting them to a different audience. Best case scenario, more people will hear what’s being said, worst case, no one does. I’m pretty sure no one hears me now, so hey, things can only get better, right?

Now, I should totally consider handing out medals to everyone who made it through that spiel. If I opened a post and saw that wall of words, I’d back out of the window at lightning speed.

I’m glad you didn’t. Thanks for reading.

Date: 2010-04-15 09:24 pm (UTC)
ext_16597: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Cool ... you really thinking about giving me a medal? *g*

I can seriously see where you're coming from. I think it'll be a VERY long time before m/m pairings are seen as a matter of course in the mainstream. Maybe fiction is the last barrier to true equality. Maybe when those labels are no longer utilised it really will be seen as a valid lifestyle, equal in the eyes of everyone...

I prefer to read M/M fiction. Can't remember when I last read M/F (ain't that sad?) and I'm a straight woman but its a matter of preference... and I didn't know that it was a valid preference until about 10 years ago.

When writing you should write what you enjoy writing. It should never be a chore ...

And now I'm not making sense and I'm rambling about nothing in particular - just disjointed thoughts. Sorry.

Ummm... about Nightblindness. Are you not going to post it now as fanfiction? Is it going to go straight to the publisher?

Date: 2010-04-15 09:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Can I have a silver medal, please? I like silver better than gold. :oP

Yes, I read the whole spiel and yes, I agree with most of it. (I'm a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, so the bit about JC didn't appeal to me.)

As for the writing, I definitely agree. I can understand the urge to get published, though I have a shelf full of unsubmitted (word?) novels that attest to my lack of confidence. So what if you wrote something catered to a specific audience in order to get published? At least you can say you have been. Most of us who have writing aspirations can't say that.

In fact, I usually envision all of my stories without any sex at all and then find I have to add one or two sex scenes just because the readers expect it to be there.

THIS. This really struck me. I write primarily fanfiction, but I still try (most of the time) to make it a 'real', plot- and character-driven story as much as possible because those are the kind of fics I prefer to read myself. Especially when they're chaptered. For instance, I am currently trying to finish my Big Bang fic. Now, I won't bore you with the woe-is-me details except to say that I am 33K into it and the two male leads are barely at the flirting stage. Why? Because the story isn't about sex. Although I am aware - and regrettably worried - of the fact that many readers want the sex, esp. in fanfiction. I know this, but I can't bring myself to throw the sex in just because (though I probably will in the last part). Of course by then, many may have stopped reading because the fic isn't 'hot' enough. I may also be seriously underestimating the readership as well. I don't know.

Good luck with the script. I think it's fantastic that you're taking on such an endeavor. It would be easy for me to say if your script is rejected because it was written by two women and deals with a gay relationship then that's their problem. But what's the point of that? At the end of the day, they pick what they think they can market, I guess. I'm not in that industry, so I can't really say.

Anyway, I guess all I'm saying is, good for you for getting all this out. I can empathize with the feeling of adding 'unnecessary' elements to a story to attract readers. I've done that myself (in fact, I did it with last year's BB) and still regret it a little. And I don't even get paid to write fanfiction!

Thanks for the post; I enjoyed it.

P.S. - I was actually surprised by the m/m sex scene in American Gods. It's not something you see every day in 'mainstream' novels. But I actually thought it was one of the more beautiful scenes in the book, to be honest.

Date: 2010-04-15 10:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I read till the end! What do I win? Can't it be another chapter of Digging Deep? Will I ever shut up about that fic and leave you in peace? Probably not.

Well, you covered a lot of points, but I'll just touch on one... The sex vs no sex in fic thing. It's interesting. It is true that sex sells, and I can see why you were pressured into adding a sex scene. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, as long as it fits into the storyline.

I've been discussing this recently with an author on my flist, whose last couple of fics have avoided out and out sex scenes, and indeed the fics work well without them. Sometimes it's integral to the plot, and it's necessary, and sometimes it's just fun, but honestly, as long as there's chemistry and a spark going on, I agree that graphic sex scenes don't always need to be in there. But if it gets your work to a wider audience, I don't see the harm in it... As long as it works with the story.

I'm still laughing at you "selling out" over the snot thing. It's hilarious! Idiots! :-D

Date: 2010-04-15 11:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
you know, I read (and wished I had saved it) an interesting article in a British magazine which talked openly about the growing numbers of women buying m/m fiction and videos.

The author made a very interesting point.

She argued that today's world inundates women with media that forces them to compare themselves to other women. Women are reacting to this by turning to fiction and videos where there are no female main characters. Today's woman wants a fantasy world where she can escape the constant pressure of comparisons for a while.

And yes, straight writers are stepping up and meeting the demand. Its really no different than the fact that some romance writers are male, but are writing from the POV of female characters.

As for the sex scene stuff, I suspect that the main problem is that most writers today start out in fanfic. And yes, there is a certain readership in every fandom that is solely on the internet for porn. Other writers watch those who cater to this part of fandom, see the number of comments these fics get, and begin to wonder if this is what most people want.

The truth is that most of the fiction on the shelves in bookstores has very little sexual content. Even the most popular LBGT writers don't have a lot of sex in their books. The books that are popular and sell well are those that occasionally toss in sex for one sole purpose - to advance the plot and explore the characters' bond. I think the best test is to throw out the sex scene and see if it breaks the flow of the narration and lessens character growth.

I yanked several of these scenes out of one of my fics for precisely this reason and rewrote the remaining sex scenes so they were generally no more than one paragraph. Strangely, I have seen more comments on this fic and how 'hot' the sex was, then pretty much anything else I have written. I suspect it was because each scene was short and absolutely crucial to the story and the romance between the two characters?

Date: 2010-04-16 07:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I officially discovered slash fics when I googled up Sam and Frodo and you could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather, seeing all those stories - Frodo/Sam, Elladan/Elrohir, Boromir/Faramir! I had been slashing people ( in my head ) for a long, long time but before the internet, I had no idea that there were so many like-minded people! Oh I read the occasional novels with m/m sex in them but those were hard to come by, especially to a schoolgirl. Finding slashfics on the internet opened a whole new world to me, and till now I'm extremely grateful to the slash writers who wrote all those wonderful stories!

That script you're writing with your friend, is it the one in which you posted a couple of snippets a while back?
Edited Date: 2010-04-16 07:57 am (UTC)

Date: 2010-04-16 06:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
For me, a pairing has to have chemistry, regardless of the gender combination. When I started reading slash - LotR - I didn't read all the pairings, just the ones that, to me, had chemistry as well as a relationship that in my eyes, could realistically evolve into a romantic/sexual relationship. So I won't call myself a slasher in the true sense (same gender couples) but a slasher in that I'll read (and probably write) any pairing, het or gay, that I'm excited about at the moment;) For example, I found Aragorn/Legolas to be a HOT combo, but in Pirates, it was Will/Elizabeth for me;) In Supernatural I'm kinda partial to Dean/Jo but in RPS it's J2, so really, I just find myself getting all misty-eyed when I think 2 people have so much chemistry between them that they become my OTP for that film/tv show/rps obsessions;) When it comes to original fiction, reading or writing, the same thing goes, I'd read or write either m/m, m/f, f/f, depending on the characters:)

Date: 2010-04-17 03:11 am (UTC)
ext_36416: (Jack Beautiful Smile)
From: [identity profile]
The age old dilemma of caving to the 'sex sell' marketing or holding true to your vision of your tale and possibly not getting the same readership. Mmmm. I think that any writer regardless of their talent or lack thereof has to tackle that debate especially if they are not a well read mainstream writer. Even then, there are still many pressure to conform to a particular trend as aposed to their original and true vision.

I suppose at the end of the day, it really depend what exactly are you writing for? Is it the personal fulfilment of writing something that gives others an insight into your characters lives or is it because you want it to be read by as many people as possible to get that buzz that people love you, even though what they loved wasn't what you really wanted to write?

Ultimately it is about coming to that turning point where it is more about the writing and the quality of that writing than publishing or reputation. Many, many writer in all genres and types of publication, never truly get to that point. The pull for notority is to strong to turn the tide and write waht you really want to write. You see it all the time with mainstream writers. They have a series of hits and then they write this really obscure book that doesn't sell much, but is the one they talk about the most. Though saying that, there is always the exception to the rule and their book creates a new trend that other writers are then forced (but publisher or desire to be No 1) to follow.

I am amlost positive that there are thousands of absolute brilliant manuscripts laying around all dusty on shelves that will never see the light of day because the author thinks (or knows) that it doesn't have enough of what the trend says needs to be in there.

I suppose that means do you want to be one of the brave ones that does what you love only for you and not everyone else, or just keep on writing what the masses say you should?

Who knows maybe you will be one of the ones that changes the trend and manages to make m/m fiction mainstream? A girl can dream can't she.

Good luck hon. If anyone has the determination and strength of character to do it, you do.

*Hugs you*

Date: 2010-04-26 04:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I feel kind of silly for the fact that I can't add anything to conversation, but I just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this.


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