Guest post by author Eliot Grayson
Like superheroes, every romance reader has an origin story. Mine is pretty typical: I purloined my grandmother’s Harlequins as an adolescent and read them far into the night. I’m guessing I’m not alone!
Learning to be a badass...just like grandma
At the time, my reading taught me a lot about life and being a grown-up (maybe more than it should have, and maybe not always the best lessons, but I digress…) But in retrospect, I learned more from the fact that my grandmother was reading those books in the first place. She was bedridden for the last few years of her life, and she read hundreds, maybe thousands, of Harlequin Presents that her friends picked up by the box and bushel at yard sales. She’d lived an adventurous life. She went to Spain as a volunteer nurse during the civil war there in the thirties, she worked as a registered nurse, she raised three sons. She had a doctorate in history. Honestly, she was a total badass. And she decided she’d earned a vacation, dammit.
And that’s another type of superhero-esque badassery, one that I’ve really learned to admire as I’ve gotten older. How many of us are a little sheepish when we admit what we love to read? Like, we feel like we ought to be hiding The Cowboy Navy Seal’s Secret Baby (if this is a real title, no offense to the author is intended!) behind a copy of Kierkegaard’s Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions, or something. I have a two-year degree in philosophy, since four years was a bridge too far, and I’m here to tell you: stick with the cowboy.
Better yet, tell everyone else you’re sticking with the cowboy, just the way my grandmother did. She’s proof that strong, intellectual, hard-headed women read romance and love it. Something that we all know, but sometimes forget to be open about!
Wait...you write about what?
Which leads me to M/M romance, my chosen genre as an author. I like to think my grandmother would have been very open to this genre and defended it just as much as she defended heterosexual romance. And unfortunately, she would have needed to! If you think you get a lot of questions about your romance-reading habits, try telling your friends you write gay romance. I get a lot of straight guys asking me, in a baffled sort of way (aside from the fact that, y’know, who wants to read romance anyway?), why a woman would want to read M/M? Well. They have questions, and I have answers! (And recommendations. Those are for you, not for the annoying guys. They get Kierkegaard, and they deserve it.)
1. Two hot guys are better than one!
This really ought to be self-explanatory! However, I find that men in particular never seem to get this. “But,” I say to them, “then why do straight guys watch porn with two hot women getting it on?” And they reply, “Well, that’s different…” and then can’t ever seem to explain that difference. (If you ever get this question, try referring them to Kierkegaard. He wrote a lot of books. Surely one of them spells it out.)
One of the first M/M romances I read, written by a man, and with two very male and very hot heroes, is Damon Suede’s Hot Head. This book epitomizes two hot guys (firefighters, no less!) being better than one.
2. It’s a total vacation from female biology
This was a big one for me when I got into the genre. I was pregnant, and I was so, so tired of everything in my life being about obstetrical and gynecological details! It was so refreshing to read a romance in which there weren’t any girl parts, since I was so sick of my own by then! I know romance tends to gloss over the stuff that isn’t as much fun about sex and biology (if someone can find me a romance novel that contains the word “Monistat,” I’ll read it!), but we all know it’s there. Books with no chance of an accidental pregnancy, no periods, and no wonderful screaming vaginal orgasms that in my giant, miserable, heart-burned, with-child state I wasn’t going to get for a really long time — priceless.
One of the first M/M series I stumbled on during that first pregnancy was Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series (the first book is Fatal Shadows). These are mysteries, with a slow-burn M/M romance spread throughout the series. I devoured these, and they’re an awesome intro to the genre.
3. You get a new viewpoint on gender roles
A lot of romance plays heavily into social mores around the way the genders interact (ahem, Harlequin Presents). It’s fun to step outside of that romance mainstream and get a different point of view.
There are a ton of M/M romances that play heavily with the idea of gender fluidity, or men stepping outside the norm for men in their societies. Two of my books flirt heavily with this; I created my own alt-Regency world so that I could have all the fun of waistcoats and carriages and also feature characters who don’t stick so closely to what we think of as the typical Regency man.
One cool sci-fi romance that takes this concept to an extreme is Static by L.A. Witt. One of the main characters is a gender shifter, and can become male or female at will. In female form, this character gets serious with a straight guy, and then the secret comes out…
4. New and different tropes
There are a lot of tropes that are specific to M/M romance. A few of the most-used are gay-for-you, out-for-you, and the alpha-on-alpha power struggle. There are way, way more books with these tropes than I could possibly list, so I’m just going to pick a favorite book and a favorite author.
The Shearing Gun, by Renae Kaye, is an out-for-you. A gay Australian farmer is living so deep in the closet he can’t see his way out, but then there’s a hot new doctor in town, and that all gets…complicated. This is such a charming book, and I don’t know why it doesn’t make more best-of lists. Alessandra Hazard is a favorite author of mine, and her most popular series is up-front about its gay-for-you theme: it’s called Straight Guys, and every one of the books has at least one hero who starts out straight and ends up with another guy. This series is like crack. I highly recommend it! (That kind of came out wrong, but you know what I mean…)
5. You can also teach an old trope new tricks!
M/M romance breathes new life into a lot of old chestnuts that have become mainstays of romance (and for good reason – they’re fun!). Arranged marriages, marriages of convenience, main characters disguising themselves as the opposite sex, forced proximity, hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold — you name it, M/M does it, and does it just differently enough to make it fresh. (Well, not always. There are more or less successful books in every genre. But a lot!) I have two M/M marriage-of-convenience books myself, because I love those plots. The tension! The doubt! The additional trope of forced proximity! Love them.
This book I’m recommending isn’t as easy to find as hitting up Amazon, because it was published as part of a Goodreads M/M Romance Group event a few years ago. However, you can get to it through its Goodreads page and download it, and in my opinion it’s well worth it: The Lodestar of Ys by Amy Rae Durreson. It’s fantasy, with some unique world-building features at that, and it’s a super cute arranged/convenient royal marriage story.
6. There’s a whole new world of external conflict
Depending on the setting, there are a lot of external sources of conflict unique to M/M. For example, in the Regency-set M/M romances I write, homosexuality isn’t just frowned on, it’s illegal and punishable in all sorts of unpleasant ways. The need for secrecy is a huge part of the plot, by necessity. In a fantasy or sci-fi, the rules can be anything the author wants them to be, and that can lead to some very creative problems for the heroes! In a contemporary romance, whatever social or cultural norms exist in the setting come into play, and they’re almost always different than those that affect an M/F romance.
Historical romance is kind of my catnip, so I’ve read pretty widely in M/M historicals. Admittedly, my tastes tend to vary a little from the super-popular; there are a couple of widely read M/M Regency authors whose books, while undoubtedly perfectly good, just didn’t do it for me. However, there are some I’ve loved.
There’s Lydia Gastrell’s One Indulgence, in which a young aristocrat believes he must marry for the good of his estate and tenants but needs one night, just one night, to get his desires out of his system…I think we all know how well those “just for one night, never again” plans tend to go for romance protagonists, amirite? Also check out K.J. Charles, who’s written quite a few M/M historicals, many with supernatural/AU elements. One of my favorites of hers is Think of England, a spy thriller-mystery-country house romance set in the underused Edwardian period.
7. M/M gets (at least some) men interested in an almost entirely female-dominated genre
Most men don’t read or write romance! But M/M romance is an exception to that, and it’s a lot of fun to get new perspectives in the genre, both from authors and from the audience. I’ve had a few pieces of fan mail from male readers who thought my characters behaved convincingly like men, and I open that email folder and read them whenever I feel like my current work in progress is a dumpster fire. (So, like, often? Anyway. Ahem.)
It’s still far more common for women to write M/M than for men to, and a lot of female authors in this genre use male or gender-neutral names — so you can’t always tell if the author you’re reading is a man or not. (Hi, I’m Eliot, I’m female, and I write gay romance!) Compared to heterosexual romance, though, M/M is absolutely overrun with guys. I’ve already recommended one male author, Damon Suede (Josh Lanyon is female — case in point on the pen names), but there are plenty of others I’d recommend as well.
Alexis Hall is one very popular male author, and his Glitterland is almost painfully British with a side of, well, glitter. The late Ethan Day is another popular author who wrote a bunch of light contemporary M/M romances, too many to list.
8. It keeps the romance genre fresh!
Because it’s outside the central mainstream of romance publishing, there’s a lot of experimentation. For example, the concept of mpreg, or male pregnancy — which I’m not going to get into here! (Google it if you’re curious! Just don’t blame me if you fall down an endless, often entertaining, sometimes jaw-dropping, rabbit hole of fanfiction, mmmkay?)
But aside from books using concepts like mpreg that simply would not exist at all without M/M romance, there are a ton of books that just go a little out there in general. These authors know that unfortunately, they’re (we’re, I’m right there with them) probably not going to make the New York Times bestseller list anyway, so why not take a risk, get creative, and see what happens?
An awesome example in this category is Keira Andrews’s Kick at the Darkness and its sequel, Fight the Tide. (Book three doesn’t have a release date yet, dammit.) I fully admit that these books’ descriptions read like an unsuccessful pitch to the Syfy channel: “So, there’s this zombie apocalypse, right? Only it’s a freaky disease that causes it, and the infected make this horrible chattering sound. And werewolves are immune to it! Which is awesome, right?” — “Uh, sorry, Steve, I think we’ll pass this time…” Let me reiterate: these books are awesome. Exciting, romantic, chilling, and incredibly fun, and Syfy really should pick them up and make a kick-ass series out of them.
9. Some plots are just more plausible as M/M romances
Depending on the setting or the plot an author wants to use, two male protagonists makes certain classic romance plots a lot more plausible. Do you want to write, or read, an adventure on the high seas in the Age of Sail? Sure, plenty of authors have written M/F romances with a setting like this, but it’s a lot easier to get your 18th century characters on that ship together if they’re both men. Think two Navy SEALs stuck in the wilderness surviving and getting it on would be hotter than just one? (Yes, you do. See item #1 on this list.) Welp, there aren’t any female Navy SEALs, so…M/M to the rescue!
I love me a good totally unrealistic romance plot as much as the next reader, but let me tell you, as an author? Getting to skip those narrative acrobatics necessary to get female characters into certain places in certain times is a gift.
An absolutely wonderful M/M romance that uses this is The Rifter series , by Ginn Hale. Now, it’s probably pretty obvious by now that I adore sci-fi and fantasy, both romance and not, and this is another one — but bear with me. This series is so epic. It’s fantasy, it’s time-travel, it has one hero from our contemporary world, it’s bizarre and unique and totally creepy and sweepingly romantic, and — yeah, I’m fitting it into this category because one of the heroes is a sort-of monk in a place with no women. (Really, I just love this series so much, and I think everyone else should, too!)
And that concludes my list, although I’m sure there are more reasons than this to love M/M! I hope a few of you have found some new favorites, and if you know of some I don’t — email! I love hearing from other readers and finding new books.
About the author
I’m an editor by day and a romance writer by night, at least on a good day. I’m more of a procrastinator by day and despairing eater of chocolate by night when inspiration doesn’t flow and my day-job clients are driving me to insanity. Go ahead and guess which of these is more common.
My steady childhood diet of pulp science fiction, classic tales of adventure, and romance novels surreptitiously borrowed from my grandmother eventually led me to writing; I picked up my first M/M romance a few years ago and I've been enjoying the genre as a reader and an author ever since.
You can find me on Goodreads and also contact me through my website with any comments, questions, or feedback.
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