I have no idea anymore how many people read my ramblings on average. Probably not that many. That’s okay! For the few who will see this, I’m going to say one last thing about my brand-new novel. I wanted to say it in my post the other day, but I was sidetracked with talking about death and grief.
I suppose this post is, in a sense, also about death. At least, it’s about moving forward. I won’t say “moving on.” That’s a term I’ve come to despise over many years of having loved ones die and comforting friends who are grieving. To me, the term implies an intentional forgetfulness and carries the expectation that we should do so. But no one “moves on.” We all simply keep living, one moment, one day at a time. For many of us, it becomes easier as the years pass. For others, not so much. In either case, we are moving forward, as there is no other option, but we are not “moving on.”
In that sense, this is what I’m choosing to do. Keeping the Faith is the last part in a series of very personal novels. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment, nor do I in any sense want to tell readers what they should get from the story. If someone sees a thing that I did not intend, I applaud that, especially if it touches them deeply. My intent as an author only applies to me, and it ends the moment a book is in the hands of a reader. From there, the interpretation is up to them.
What I will say is that the characters represent aspects of myself. They are things which were too deep, to intense, for me to express directly. They are the sum of years of hurt at the hands of controlling, abusive religion followed by confusion and a tug-of-war between belief and non-belief. They are also a representation of my own complicated feelings and relationship with my queerness and my physical and mental health.
As time has gone on, I’ve developed greater understanding of myself and my writing. I never intended to become an author of MM (male/male) romance. Before I began reviewing books, romance was the least likely genre for me to pick up, regardless of the genders.
Just to be clear, there is not a single thing wrong with reading or writing Romance Genre novels. It just isn’t what I want to write (nor is it even what I’ve really been writing). Most people who enjoy Romance Genre want the focus to be on the couple and how they get together, and I struggle to craft a believable plot around falling in love.
Parallel to that is specifically my involvement with MM Romance. There are numerous issues within the genre, and they do require open conversations. I’ve only been around for three years, but I’ve been so appalled by some things that I’ve ended up distancing myself from the community I’m technically supposed to be marketing toward.
You may be wondering how that’s relevant. Here’s why: I’ve been a fierce advocate for #OwnVoices books. And I am not an #OwnVoices author when it comes to MM. Sure, I’m bi and write bi books. But I’m not a man. Not that this should always matter, but for me, it does, to an extent.
One of the things I’ve called on people to do is to examine why they write what they do. What reasons do we have for writing exclusively about characters who are not mostly like us? I’ve spent a long time doing exactly that.
(A note here: Not even one bit of what I’m about to say is my publisher’s doing. She is an amazing, caring person. If I’d talked to her about even one of the things I was feeling, I’d have gotten all the support I needed. But my drive to do things on my own prevented me from speaking up sooner.)
When I wrote my first novel, it wasn’t a “gay book.” Nor was it MM Romance. It was a re-telling of the Pied Piper, modeled on The Music Man (which happens to be my favorite musical). It was also a rant about my home state’s educational system. It wasn’t a romance. That was what I intended to keep writing, and I didn’t mean to stick exclusively, or even mostly, with male main characters.
Except the “gayness” of the book meant that most people who wanted to read it were in the MM Romance community. And trust me, that community has Expectations with a Capital E. Being the rebellious sort that I am, some people’s Expectations made me really, really angry. (Note: not all MM readers/writers are like this, hence my use of “some.” Put the pitchforks down; you all know it’s true.)
My first novel wasn’t “sexy enough”? Okay, I’ll give you more explicit sex—but I will not buckle under your requirement that it be ass sex. You think femmes are gross and you hate reading about them? Here, have a transfemme character who is probably a lot more of a genuine alpha than your precious “alpha males.” You don’t read the bi books, and you think “het sex” shouldn’t show up in your MM? Have some very explicit “het sex” that the very definitely bi man is enjoying. No religious characters? Watch me take that on.
While I was doing all of that, I was also puzzling through my own gender identity. Writing a genderqueer/gender fluid character helped clarify a lot of things. Writing about men provided the distance I needed to explore that. At the time, I felt as though I needed to crush the femininity imposed on me based on my assigned gender, while also never feeling quite like that fit either. It was, like writing out my religion-induced scars, a form of self-protection.
And now here I am, three years on. I do still sometimes like writing in a man’s POV, but not exclusively. And I like writing about queerness, but I dislike limiting that to “two people with penises who can be interpreted as MM.” I definitely don’t want to be confined to Romance Genre, even though I like romantic elements in a story. I chalk this up to my ongoing joke that I can’t “pick a side” in any area of my life. Why should my writing be any different?
When I write, I want to be able to broaden the subject matter. Not only do I wish to stop limiting myself to men only, I want to explore other kinds of relationships. I don’t require happily ever afters, by which I don’t mean “death”—I just mean it’s not “two people get together and ride off into the sunset.” I suppose it’s the same as the difference between “a book with LGBTQ+ characters” and “a LGBTQ+ book.” I don’t mind if romantic relationships are one ingredient, but Romance Genre by virtue of what it is requires that the love story be central, and I simply can’t conform to that.
I might be setting myself up for failure; I don’t know yet. What I do know is that in writing Keeping the Faith, most of this became clear. That novel is an end, in one sense—to the series, at least. It’s also a beginning. I’ll finish out my sort-of Romance Genre novels in my other series, but then everything in me says it’s time to do something different.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading my ramblings. Here’s to a future of reading and writing what makes us happy to do so.