Hi everyone!! I can’t even tell you how excited I am about today’s guest post. Amy Lane is brilliant. She’s funny, and smart, and writes beautiful (and sometimes heartbreaking) stories. (If you have not read her Little Goddess series… go… now… buy… read) She’s one of my very favorite people to talk to, and you’re about to see a glimpse of why. Be sure to check the bottom of this post for a chance to win one of Amy’s books!!
The M/M fiction genre has been growing readers in leaps and bounds the last few years. There have been discussions all over the internet about it, there have been books written exploring the idea, and today… Amy breaks down her own take on why. (Warning: This will make you laugh out loud, it contains language of the NSFW kind, it will make you go “hmmmm…”, and by the end of it, you may need a rec list for M/M fiction. You’re welcome.)
The Curious Slope of Alphabet Soup
It’s an interesting slide. People start out reading romance, you know, basic heterosexual, contemporary romance? Isn’t that nice? See Dick. See Jane. See them meet. See them fall in love. See them have sex like bonobos on aphrodisiacs with a jungle soundtrack of Rick James gong full blast, and little disco balls twinkling in the trees.
Whoopee! Go Dick! Go Jane! Contemporary romance at it’s finest! But wait!
Somebody hath added a wrinkle, and now Dick has fangs. Or fur. Or (oh joy!) both! And Jane is a super ninja fur and fang slayer who falls hard enough for Dick to allow the sensual bite of the fanged and furry lurve beast, and look! Yes! See them have sex like bonobos on aphrodisiacs with a jungle soundtrack of Warren Zevon and Sting going full blast, and little disco balls twinkling over the coffin!
Whoopee! Go werewolf Dick! Go ninja Jane! Para Normal Romance (or PNR) rocks!
But wait! Somebody hath added a wrinkle, and now Dick has fangs and Mick has fur, and Jane is the super ninja fur and fang slayer caught between them, and then Dick betrays Mick and Jane is caught in a conundrum, and then Phillip shows up and he’s looking mighty fine but he needs Jane to save the world, and Jane is forced to put a machete between Dick’s head and his shoulders and then Phillip dies from remorse and Mick turns out to be gay and Marcus shows up with both fangs and fur and then… well, by then we’re four books into the world and we are dying to see somebody have sex like bonobos, music be damned, but we understand it happens in the sequel!
Whoopee! Goddammit! Somebody have some sex! And welcome to the world of Urban Contemporary Fantasy, or UCF for short.
UCF differs from the first two in that the world is built and established, and the same characters move throughout that world. Usually, the people who start out reading contemporary romance and PNR slide nicely into UCF without really knowing the difference, and that’s fine. But when they get to UCF, for an odd number of readers, something really odd happens.
Meet Marcus—he has a dick. Meet Phillip—he is one. See Marcus? See him turn into a vampire? See Phillip? See Phillip turn into a vampire? See them deal with being vampires and kill things and cope with all of the insane rules in a supernatural world? See them have chemistry and makes sparks fly and have banter and, whoa wait, ohmygod, are those two guys having sex like bonobos with Lady Gaga playing in the jungle shrugs and… oh wow. That’s sorta hot. That’s really hot. We all knew those two guys were fucking each other with their eyes that way. Wowee! That’s incendiary! Oh Geez…
Does anybody have any other UCF M/M books they could recommend? Yeah, they can be werewolves. Or vampires. Or psychics. Or elves. Or some sort of space alien with two penises and spikes coming out its chest. Or, you know, regular humans. Yeah, yeah, fine, whatever. They can be contemporary. Sure. Fine.
And suddenly, there you have it.
Someone read the gateway drug and slid right into the slightly fringe world of M/M romance, and the rest of the world is at a loss.
But it actually makes a lot of sense.
Back when I was teaching high school English, I would teach the idea of archetypes—a framework for character based on cultural memory. One of the biggest requirements of any sort of archetypal hero was the idea that started out as “noble worth” in the textbooks, but that I sort of refined to “social heft”. It means that this person is someone that people will listen to—and, when you move from European archetypes to American archetypes, it means that the person doesn’t have to move in rarefied air, just that he has to carry some weight in the culture he moves in.
Uhm, notice that I said, “he”.
Yeah—in most genres, women have different archetypes than men. Men get to be epic, tragic, romantic, satiric, Gothic, American Romantic, or anti-heroes. For the most part, as I taught literature—and read romance on my own—women didn’t get to be any of these archetypes, because, as much as we like to think of women’s rights as a done deal, the fact is, our behavior in literature very often hadn’t reached “heroic” proportions. Women were stuck in the four V’s—virgins, victims, vixens, or vamps. The two genres that I could see where this didn’t happen were fantasy, and it’s modern Gothic counterpart, urban contemporary fantasy—or UCF.
So, what’s happened here is this.
Women like to read romance—that’s great. They tire of contemporary romance, because very often the feminine archetypes aren’t what they want to read. They want to see women do something—they want to see the two partners in the story as equals. Paranormal romance offers a different take on this kind of romance—but, very often, we still get the four v’s, and that’s hard to live with. I mean, the guy gets the fangs, the woman gets the fur, but he’s still calling the shots? So we move on to urban fantasy—and EXCELLENT! She’s a kick ass sorceress or a vampire or shoots some sort of magic powered fusion gun out her ass—it doesn’t matter, she’s got the same social heft to play with the big guys, if she had to rearrange the modern world to get it!
And once a reader—an open-minded reader—starts grappling with female heroes, they start dealing on a purely archetypal basis. They stop looking at gender as the criteria for who has the upper hand or the lower hand, and they start looking at personality, and what drives the characters in the story as people—even if they’re not technically human, they’re very often distilled into the essence of what makes humanity, because that’s what good writing, even genre writing, is all about.
And once a reader starts enjoying that, well, she (an open minded she) stops looking at gender, and starts looking at people, and suddenly, it’s all about the heroes and how they’re interacting.
And the heroes are so interesting, that once they start boinking like bonobos, our open minded female reader isn’t going to care if both the flames are blue, she’s just going to enjoy the frickin’ heat.
And that’s why the slippery slope, I think. I’ve talked to enough readers—and have read enough books and have thought enough about the subject—that this is the conclusion I’ve come to. In spite of all the acronyms and in spite of the “ohmygod, werewolves are gross!” and “ohmygod, gay werewolves are grosser!” outcry from your initial romance fans, I think that when it comes down to it, the readers who make the plunge into M/M this way are really looking at books for the same reason we’re all looking at books: they want to see the things that make us human.
Sometimes, it’s just more fun when the humans sport fangs and fur.
So… ladies and gentlemen… there you have it Did you all have an “Oh, yeah. That makes a lot of sense.” moment?? Let me know YOUR thoughts in the comments below, and one random commenter will win an ebook copy of one Amy Lane title. (I would suggest VULNERABLE, which is book 1 in the Little Goddess series, but she has many other titles to choose from.) Comments posted by midnight pacific on Saturday will be entered to win. Winner will be chosen and notified on Sunday, October 14th.
Don’t miss your chance to meet Amy and spend some time with her and other awesome authors and readers at the Olde City, New Blood urban fantasy / paranormal romance mini-convention this February 8-10th in St. Augustine, FL. We’ll have panels, readings, meet & greets and lots of time for everyone to mingle with their favorite authors. Check out http://OldeCityNewBlood.wordpress.com for all the details. Can’t wait to see you there!