Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Is it possible to write M/M fiction without pissing off 3,684,963 people?

Yikes-o-rama. Some months back I started compiling, in my head, a list of M/M fiction irritants and no-no's culled from various book reviews and blogs. My conclusion? Ain't no romance you're gonna create involving two (or more) men that won't trip somebody's trigger. I'm not talking about writers and readers who have an aversion to the subsubgenre itself; I'm talking about writers who write gay and readers who read gay.

Whoa, jump back, Jack. The butt bug is biting tonight!

I finally started jotting down all the stuff people have griped about. Here's a list of what they find laughable, repellant, tiresome, stupid, unrealistic, adolescent, and/or indicative of general cluelessness:

  • "Emo" characters (This term has become WAY more inclusive than it should be.)
  • Exceptional endowment (The pink torpedo is out; the pink Twinkie is in . . . as far as it can go, that is.)
  • Too much sex
  • Too much swallowing of the salty snowball during sex
  • Too little sex
  • Too little swallowing of the salty snowball during sex
  • "Odd" positions during sex
  • Too much talking during sex
  • Too little talking during sex
  • Too much BDSM
  • Not enough BDSM
  • Blue eyes (!)
  • A history of abuse as a child (Guess that's old news. YIPPEE! Child abuse no longer exists!)
  • Tension or plot conflict that involves homophobes (Guess they're old news, too. YIPPEE! Vicious, mindless sexual prejudice no longer exists!)
  • Love at first sight (Well, yeah, that's baloney--eHarmony be damned.)
  • Arousal at first sight (*Ahem.* Just take a gander at some of these photos and then start singing "How Dry/Soft I Am". Lesbians, by the way, are excluded from this challenge.)
  • Protagonists who claim to be straight and only get bent with and for each other. (It's the "I swear I have always been and will always be straight" part that makes this oxymoronic. But I don't know of too many writers who try to peddle gay or bi heroes as hardcore het's.)
  • The deep end of the sensitivity pool: too much crying, too much schmaltz, too much angst (Where's the line and when is it crossed?)
  • The shallow end of the sensitivity pool: too much hard-nosedness, too much glibness and flippancy, too much insouciance (Ditto the above comment.)
  • Too many cops/detectives/cowboys (For me, at least, they are getting stale. I have a hard time being engaged by characters who remind me of the Village People, although some authors can pull it off.)
  • Lack of alpha traits and a plethora of "womanish" traits
  • Too much cussing (See above.)
  • Unrealistic dialogue (See above.)
  • Obligatory HEA (I agree with this one.)
  • Too much pondering of emotions
  • Too little attention to emotions
  • Lack of chemistry (How published authors can produce a lack of chemistry between two protags in a romance is beyond me.)
  • Use of animal similes/images/metaphors/sounds (Kind of difficult to steer totally clear of them, especially when it comes to dialogue tags . . . those repetitive buggers.)
  • Menages that involve two gay men and a woman (I must admit, this plot device does bewilder and annoy me.)
  • Pointless drama (I'm not entirely sure what that is.)
  • Female characters who are a.) villains/foils, b.) goddesses/Earth Mothers, c.) ignorant of their men's true sexual preference, d.) you name it.
Shee-it, see what I mean? I'm left asking myself, what the hell does qualify as getting it right? Damned if I know . . .


Clare London said...

ohhhhh, this made me laugh aloud!! :) Great summary!

I've followed a few of these 'debates' myself.

I'm thinking of writing about a single man who sits quietly on a park bench and reads a book. Maybe put another guy on the bench opposite, also reading a book. Cam I avoid all the cliches then??

Depends how long I can keep them there, I suppose, without being accused of excess UST *lol*

K. Z. Snow said...

Hello, Clare! Nice to hear from you again!

I truly did start getting an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness when I realized how many of these objections I'd compiled. Bloody hell! And they're stated as absolutes, not preferences -- i.e., Thou shalt not, under any circumstances . . .

This leads me to theorize there's a secret sect somewhere that guards a sacred tablet bearing the Gay Romance Ten Commandments, and if any writer runs afoul of these dicta . . . oh, baby, duck and run!

So you just make sure your park-bench dudes aren't too well-hung, have had their tear ducts removed, don't engage in introspection, and take until 2011 to realize they're attracted to each other. *g*

Amanda Young said...

Great post. The honest truth is no matter what m/m romance we write, there's always going to be someone who doesn't like it. The very things one person complains about will be the exact reason another reader will love the story. I just chalk it up to different strokes for different folks.

Marteeka said...

I've only got one M/M book out, and it's a Hot Flash, so i dind't have time to get those really annoying trates in my book... probably an annoying trait in and of itself. LOL

nice overview. LOVE IT!


Erastes said...

Oh brilliant post, having just had a load of people whine on about 3 different places I frequent I have to say how refreshing this is - I'll certainly be linking to it.

Clare: I think that's hilarious and I'd read it. I hope there's no sex on the benches, and no emo-ing that they can't reach each other.

Ann Vremont said...

Spew alert: Lesbians, by the way, are excluded from this challenge:end spew alert

there's no winning, huh :-)

K. Z. Snow said...

Oh, all of youse guys, I'm so glad I'm not alone in my frustration!

Amanda, you're right. Each attitude is subjective. Unfortunately, many peeps don't present them as such.

Teeka, darlin', you just keep working on devising those annoying elements. Practice makes perfect! ;-)

Erastes, I suspect I frequent some of the same places you do, so I certainly pulled some of these icky-bads from those posts.

Ann, I know some men think they are so blisteringly hot they can make lesbians go straight . . . but I'm not a man. *g*

Then again, those shower photos . . . (Just kidding. Maybe.)

K. Z. Snow said...

By the way, if y'all got the impression that Nathan Kamp gives me a boner, you're right. Although, much to my dismay, I can't really get a boner -- which makes it easy to ignore people who tell me to go fuck myself.

So let's call it a bone chip. Yeah, Nathan Kamp, especially wet, gives me a bone chip. (No such thing as instant arousal . . . pfff.)

Katrina Strauss said...

You noticed this trend lately too, eh? I don't mind hearing what readers think, whether I agree or disagree with them, as they are our paying customer base. I do take issue, on the other hand, with m/m writers jumping on the "pet peeve" bandwagon because, in essence, they are bashing their peers. Enough catty drama going on back on the het side of the fence that I've left behind. We don't need it on the m/m side too. Thanks for posting this!

Jade Buchanan said...

Love the post!! I can't stop laughing since I've had a few of those directed at me in the past and you've made it all seem ridiculous in such a lovely way!

The first time I was raked over the coals for breaking one of the Gay Romance Commandments (love that LOL) I wanted to cry in frustration. Now I just have to laugh about it. Some of the readers/writers out there get PRETTY serious about their pet peeves and all the "thou shalt, thou shalt not..." business!!

K. Z. Snow said...

Really excellent points, Katrina. I'm glad you made them.

We all have pet peeves. We all think we can do this-and-such better than Author X (and, often, we're simply deluded -- thank you very much, Ego!) But I've almost always found something to admire in the GLBT fiction I've read -- even the stuff that contains elements I'm not terribly fond of.

What I am fond of, I've found in abundance: smooth styles, impressive attention to historical detail, moving passages, well-wrought sex scenes, engaging internal and external conflicts, dialogue that rings true, startling and original use of figurative language, evocative settings, deft touches of humor, the weaving of pure, transporting magic . . . and more.

I'm far from being a Harriet Klausner but, damn, by and large this literary niche is packed with talent.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi again, Jade!

Yeah, I've been girding my loins against slings and arrows. It's just part of the biz.

Alex Beecroft said...

LOL! You can't win, can you? I guess you just have to write and read what you enjoy and damn the torpedoes :) (Did you mention excessive use of military metaphors, or is that a new one? ;) )

I do have some pet peeves which will put me off a book but I try to bear in mind that it's probably those very things that other people really enjoy.

Mya said...

This post had me roooooolllling. I've been noticing this topic popping up more and more...but...the only thing that really matters is the sales. I told a friend that I'm not a gay male so I'll never get it *right* but that all in all these are my fantasies at the end of the day and if my particular thing about bi-sexual guys with gigantic pricks, who snarl and swear, makes someones day then that is a Bonus, not a Payment. Even if no one reads them, my dirty little mind will still be fascinated with the Big Alpha/Little Omega theme ;D

K. Z. Snow said...

That's what it all comes down to, Alex -- write what you love and love what you write and read whatever gets you going. And, as far as I can tell, nobody's yet objected to military metaphors. So damn the (big, average, and small) torpedoes, indeed! :-)

* * *

I told a friend that I'm not a gay male so I'll never get it *right*.

But you know, Mya, gay authors have also taken hits for doing too much of this or not doing enough of that. And gay men are not all alike in temperament, language use, life experiences, sex-play preferences, etc. So there's no real standard for "rightness", no matter how you look at it!

Anyway, I think we girlies should start asserting our authority in this field. Who's to say we weren't gay in previous lives? Maybe there's a reincarnated Oscar Wilde or Truman Capote among us. I already know Walt Whitman inhabits Jeanne Barrack. (Jeanne, leave the poetry alone for a minute and help beef up our credentials!)

Erastes said...

completely right KZS - I've read several books written by gay men which would be lampooned by many writers of the genre for their "girly, weepy men." Gaywyck and Vadrial Vail being two of them.

There are no absolutes. no-one can say "a gay man" (or a straight woman or an alien or a dog) would never do that because everyone reacts different dependent on so many factors.

Mya said...

I am going to assert mine...I'm a female, hear me roar, who likes to be distracted by pretty males doing dirty things...

K. Z. Snow said...

ABSOLUTELY right, Erastes . . . right down to the dog reference. (I know; I've been a companion to plenty of them.)

Criticizing blatantly bad writing is one thing. Sloppy crafting is easily enough identified, and it cuts across all genres of fiction and nonfiction. But scoffing at certain body types, behaviors, and experiences is something else entirely and far less easily justified. People are very quirky creatures of boundless variation.

K. Z. Snow said...

I'm a female, hear me roar, who likes to be distracted by pretty males doing dirty things...

:-) I again refer you to my photos link. But, alas, that pretty man is always shown alone or with women.

Kalkasar said...

You just can't please everyone, and that's a fact. I've had a mix of reactions to my historical m/m ranging from "I retch." to "I loved it so much I nearly peed my pants for joy!" So, it's all subjective.

I write what the voices tell me to write. @_@ Which has the added advantage of being able to blame the voices when someone hates it. *cackle*

Mya said...


Yesssss, delightful photos of delectable boyz indeed!!

Rowan said...

I'm with you, and reading your list made me laugh out loud.

I've been noticing more and more of my reviews warning that "Rowan really, really likes muscle." I always tilt my head to the side and wonder since when is a ripped bod cause for a warning. Unless he's about to kick your ass, anyway. ;)

K. Z. Snow said...

You could always resort to skinny emo guys, Rowan, but we know where that's gonna get you!

Cassandra Gold said...

Heh heh, love it.

I've come to the conclusion that no matter how I write, someone's not going to like it. We can't please everyone. Even trying would be enough to drive me insane, I think, with all the contradictory pet peeves out there.

(@Clare--I'll be waiting for the riveting tale of two guys sitting on benches, reading. *g*)

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi there, Cassandra. Thanks for stopping by. I think your conclusion is the general one. THere's just no pleasing everybody.

Sarah said...

Salty snowball?? hehehe.
Great list :)

Josh Lanyon said...

I do take issue, on the other hand, with m/m writers jumping on the "pet peeve" bandwagon because, in essence, they are bashing their peers. Enough catty drama going on back on the het side of the fence that I've left behind. We don't need it on the m/m side too. Thanks for posting this!

Wow. Interesting post. I'm guilty of this I guess, having just posted this very topic on the LI blog. Little did I realize how it would strike terror into the hearts of so many m/m writers. *g*

You know, having written a book to write m/m fiction, I think my situation is a little different. I don't think of it as bashing my peers -- especially since I take pains never to name names -- except when I'm praising someone's work.

But of course the truth is, people are always a little touchy when someone else tries to tell them how to do something. It's okay with me if not everyone agrees with me.

Anyone who read my book -- and understood it -- knows that my first and primary point is that all men are different and that a good writer doesn't write cliches.

And of course a good writer can sell readers on anything -- it all gets down to the quality of the writing. Granted, we're all a little blind when it comes to the quality of our own writing.

K. Z. Snow said...

Josh, damn, you're late to the party!

Oddly enough, I was just thinking about all this stuff again as I drove home from town, since I'm currently working on the second book in a series for Loose Id and already getting the crawlies about the first one . . . which isn't even out of edits yet! So anyway, here's what I realized as frozen foods thawed in the back of my '95 Escort.

Each story or novel is its own microcosm. Each set of characters has its own dynamic. What seems blatantly unrealistic in one fictional world could make eminent sense in another. Add to this the unique package of experiences and personality traits a writer brings to his or her work and -- blammy -- the variety becomes boundless.

Success or failure, I think, is determined by how well a tale's interior logic is sustained and -- yes -- quality of craftsmanship.

So if I find myself flustered while reading fiction, it's for one of two reasons: either there's a serious lack of artistry (in terms of barebones mechanics, stylistic flair, and/or imagination) OR the work is just so damned breathtakingly good it makes me resent my own limitations.

Since age, of which I have plenty, can deliver a body-slam of humility, the latter of these is more and more often the case.

Glad you stopped by. As Adrien, or even Jake, might tell you, better late than never!

Katrina Strauss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katrina Strauss said...


I agree we should hold our profession to higher standards (as I repost to correcty dratted typoes), and I love talking shop on character development, layering multiple plotlines, and the like. But when we start talking specifics in terms of character traits, specific plot points, etc, I do think we stand to step on one another's toes.

Now readers, that's a different matter. Sure, reader commenatary can sting too, but that's our customer base. We may serve them their dinner, but we authors have to work with each other back in the kitchen. ;)

I personally am of the mindset that we should write the story that demands to be written, and a like-minded readership will find it. One reader's hot yaoi is another reader's stereotypical pablum. One reader's sultry m/m romance is another reader's reason to lecture the world on the evils of "omg teh ghey" invading their small corner of the romance world.

(Hmm, why am I suddenly filled with an urge to write hot kitchen worker m/m? Oh yeah, Poppy Z. Brite's already got that one covered...)

Jeanne said...

First, a mea culpa for not visiting your blog more often and posting, KZ.
I found your last three posts and comments it generated fascinating.

"I already know Walt Whitman inhabits Jeanne Barrack."
I doubt that, but I have found out more about my ancestors through researching the historical m/m stories I'm working on for MLR Press.
I've received more reader comments about "The Sweet Flag" than *any other story I've written*
I just finished the first story and I'm really having fits.
The setting is going to seem like another world to most people.
If I have to worry about the GR Ten Commandments besides, I'm in deep trouble!
You want to hear a hoot?
The word verification that google requested was

K. Z. Snow said...

'Bout time, Jeanne! But hey, I fully realize that time is at a premium for all of us. Between writing and promo, sometimes I start to feel a little manic.

You've really piqued my interest in your MLR collection. I'm sure you'll pull it together . . . with trumpets blaring!

Ashley Ladd said...

Even in other genres reviewers disagree and contradict each other. It's truly mind blogglikng and sometimes funny. Each reviewer and reader will have their own views.

jessewave said...

Thanks for pointing me to this post KZ. Excellent points.

No writer can please every reader since we are all individuals and have different tastes. I love to read and consequently read a shit load of books both for pleasure and for review purposes and probably read more than my share of books.

If I could make a comment - since M/M romance is about men loving other men, my pet peeve is protagonists who are what I call "chicks with dicks." I can't even get into a book where the main character, supposedly a guy, cries at the drop of a hat and acts so much like a girl that I can't picture him as a gay man and it's hard to differentiate if he/she is a man or woman. I love betas as main characters but we're talking something else here, and I've stopped reading a few authors whose male characters make me want to jump in front of a train.

I don't mean to dump on any particular author because I recognize how difficult it is to write a book and I think it's a real achievement that you can write a book that readers actually buy. My comments relate to my personal taste.

I did see Josh's post on LI and commented there as well. I also did a poll on my bog (yes another of my famous polls)*g* a few months ago at the request of Evangeline Anderson asking readers what they liked (or not) about M/M romances. The response was incredible and of course varied. If you are ever interested in seeing the results of this poll I would be happy to send you the link. It proves both your point that we are all different in our reading tastes and also gives you an idea of what readers (and authors when they put on their reader hat) want in their M/M romance.

I hope that my comments made sense since it's now midnight. TTYL