Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Maturity and M/M Romance, Part II

Let's jump right in . . .

Lynn Lorenz

In my Hearts of New Orleans series I have a character, Sebastian LaGrange. He’s an gay man in his seventies who becomes a mentor and dear friend to two younger gay men, Lane and Matt (from Pinky Swear). Sebastian appears in the next book with the boys, Pioneers, where Matt is making a documentary about gay life in New Orleans by interviewing Sebastian.

At the end of that story, I left Sebastian accepting a date with a man he meets at a fast food restaurant, Raymond Chou, an Asian man who grew up in France. My readers begged me to continue their story. It seemed Sebastian had wormed his way into their hearts and they wanted him to have his HEA.

So, in C’est La Vie, I gave Sebastian his HEA in what I hope was a very sweet, poignant story. Now this involved a man, Raymond, who was very much sexually active in his seventies, and he wants Sebastian. Yes, that way.  But Sebastian goes through all sorts of worries about “doing” it, as would any man who’d been “out of action” for quite a while. Will he? Can he? If he can’t, will that be the end of Raymond? What will Raymond think of his seventy year old body?

When it came to the sex scenes, they had to match the tone of the book, and the reality of the men involved. There were no wild gyrations or gymnastics, it was gentle, sweet, and loving. They took their time getting to the actual “penetration” – Sebastian was the bottom – and Raymond handled him with consideration and love, but we did see the entire thing. No closed doors. No fade to black. No shame.

The story is romantic, sweet, and gives those who read it hope that love can come to us, no matter what the age.

Reelin’ In The Years

I admit, by some standards, (though not my own) I’m old. Too old to be writing erotic romance. And I freely admit, there are some drawbacks to my age. I don’t do clubs, I’m not out at bars staying on top the latest slang and fashion. But then, I never did that sort of thing.

That leads to the question: what does the older author have to offer the reader? Well, experience, and not just of the sexual variety. I’ve loved and lost. I’ve experienced grief and pain that was so deep it was bewildering. I’ve had success and failure. I’ve had good sex, bad sex and no sex at all.  I’ve seen troubled marriages transformed into deep enduring relationships, defying all the romance tropes around.  I’ve seen unlikely pairings that flourished. This experience encourages me to think outside the box in my writing. I just wrote the ultimate May/December pairing: Travis is 25, his lover Dylan is 900…give or take a decade or two.

The older writer has the mileage to look back and see that sometimes life is more varied and complex than fiction. An older author can often channel emotion and experience into a character, giving him depth and unexpected layers.

And characters…what’s better than a forty-something cowboy coming out of the closet to find passion and love with an over-the-hill boy toy? Or a woman  discovering her inner kink after her kids are grown? I see possibilities now that never occurred to me 25 years ago.

I’ve found that I can shock and excite people half my age. How cool is that?

Many of my characters are in their late twenties or early thirties because that’s a crucial time, I believe, in finding love and settling down. While I have written about older guys  I think there has to be a compelling reason why this guy is on the market at this stage of his life. Is he a widower? Coming out late in life? Rowan in The Russian Boy is in his early fifties and has, like many men of his generation, been married to a woman and had children. He’s had to get over the baggage of that broken relationship before he’s ready to start a new one.

Available here.
When I write about older guys I try to emphasize those features that are attractive on a man who’s no longer in his youthful prime. I’ve written sex scenes with older men, in The Russian Boy, where Rowan is self-conscious about having sex with a man twenty years younger—but Taylor loves things about Rowan, such as his confidence and wisdom, as well as his sexiness, that have only improved with age. In my short story, “Heat Lightning,” appearing this fall in the Cleis anthology Sexy Sailors, both the protagonists are over fifty, and the things they find attractive about each other are age-appropriate—liking the gray pubic hairs, the bit of extra at the waist, and so on.

My author photo is about seven years old but I’m not changing it for a while at least—it was too expensive! I don’t think my being 55 has any impact on what readers think of my books. Many of my biggest fans are men of my age or older who relate to the emotional struggles I write about.

I’d be happy to see more M/M romance about older men. I think it’s a real challenge to bring together two guys who have already had their characters set through the years, and see how they can adapt to each other.

My first novel, Until Thanksgiving (to be released in December or January by Dreamspinner Press), revolves around 39 year-old Josh Freeman. After he and his lover of 17 years part ways, Josh is certain that his life is over and he’ll never find love again. I wrote the story because at 39, that’s how I felt after my 12-year relationship had ended. No, he’s not over 50. But the fact that Josh feels the way he does (and the way I did) at what I now perceive to be the prime of life was something I wanted to write about.

Now I’m 54, and believe it or not, recently single after the end of another 12-year relationship. Again, I have a sense that my chances of finding love are slim to none. The difference is that this time around, the thought doesn’t frighten me.

So what does any of this have to do with m/m romance novels featuring characters over 50? I think guys my age don’t turn up in romance novels because at my age, the nature of romance has mellowed to such an extent that it would make for an awfully boring read. Young love is a roller coaster ride with dizzying highs and gut wrenching lows. Sorry. I don’t do roller coasters any more. Once upon a time, I loved the excitement. These days, I prefer a more even keel and run like the wind from that kind of drama.

I don’t think gay men are any more beauty-conscious than straight women—not when it comes to fictional men. Gorgeous heroes are the gold standard in straight romance, too. And if gay men find youth appealing, in characters or writers, well, so do straight folk of both genders. The only reason I find age an issue at all is my own fear that my work will be judged based on something other than its merits. I’m a perfectly nice woman of a certain age—Mom’s age!  I have three sons older than most of my characters.

Let me say right here I don’t know if my age would be an issue with readers. I like to think not, that the story is what matters. My stories don’t focus only on younger characters. Older characters get to have sex in my stories, too, as often as they care to. My sorcerer Muir is over fifty years old, though I don’t dwell on his age. His scars get more attention. And the sex is explicit.

Though I love writing about young men coming of age through adventure, I also love watching men who have a few life lessons under their belt finding that special someone who appreciates them for who they are and finds them sexy. In fact, in contemporary stories, I prefer older protagonists. I know firsthand that the sex drive doesn’t shrivel up and die for a person over fifty. I’m more interested in sex now than I ever was!

Twitter: @tali_spencer

This world is made up of people of all ages, races, beliefs, cultures and sexual orientations. As such, it’s my sense that no matter what you write, you’ll find some readers. Maybe not as many as you’d like, but I think there’s certainly room for anything and everything including older heroes.

In romance fiction there will be readers who don’t like very young characters or very old ones. The majority of what’s selling appears to be books with characters in their 20’s and 30’s. That doesn’t mean that books with older characters don’t sell. I know for a fact that some do.

I did a cover for Z.A. Maxfield’s Family Unit, a book featuring a hero who is a grandfather. That book sells phenomenally well. Readers don’t care how old Richard is. They identify with him and they love him. And I think in M/M romance, especially with female readers, they are more accepting of older heroes as long as they are written well and portrayed as sexy regardless of their age. Maybe gay men want books about young, hot, perfect guys, but I don’t know for sure. Certainly, the gay men who have critiqued my books aren’t like that and I’m not an author who writes what I think will sell. I write what I need to write. I write the story that thunders inside me, insisting on having its day on paper.

If I came up with a plot bunny involving a character over 50, I’d go with it if it’s one of those stories I just have to write. And when I write paranormals, I have characters who are immortal so they are more than 50 and look younger. They don’t always act younger and they aren’t always perfect. In fact, I live to write flawed characters regardless of their age.

At the age of 51 I’ve learned not to sweat the stuff I can’t change. I can’t stop my body from aging even if my brain doesn’t think it’s aged.  I don’t lie about my age or worry that people won’t like what I write. I am who I am. When readers ask me personal questions, I probably tell them far more truth than they want to know!

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A note from the hostess (or is that not a word anymore because it's politically incorrect?) I'm deeply grateful to all these fine writers for offering not only their opinions but candid glimpses into their lives. They've made it pretty damned obvious that regardless of one's age, proud self-acceptance, even with a dash of defiance, are good things when combined with intellect and sensitivity.

 (This picture is about as old as Neil's but cost a lot less, thanks to an outdated Polaroid camera. My reaction to it? First, where'd those black dots come from, and how dare they make it look like I'm hiding a guinea pig under my golden tresses? Second, how could I kiss a man with a 'do like that? (Sorry, JLA. At least your hair has grown out . . . what's left of it, anyway. :))


Anonymous said...

Thanks for including me. Lots of interesting comments and observations about an interesting topic.

Kayelle Allen said...

How rewarding to see that the attitude of age not mattering runs across all lines. Yes, some will care. They'll find plenty of other things to read. Thanks for sharing this concept, KZ.

Neil Plakcy said...

Fascinating to see all the different ways we approach this issue. Thanks, KZ!

K. Z. Snow said...

You needn't thank me. I'm grateful to all of you for sharing your experiences and insights. And judging by the blog's stats, a lot of people have stopped by to read what you've had to say.

NightTempest said...

Great post. While I enjoy youthful characters just as much as anyone, sometimes mature characters can offer a lot to a story as well. What a nice look at the subject from a variety of authors. :)

K. Z. Snow said...

Thanks, NightTempest. There truly is an incredible array of life experiences in this group. Nothing adds depth, nuance, and insight to fiction more than time spent in the world.

Anonymous said...

I am so loving this post, and was afraid I wouldn't be able to comment! In our attempt to make it a non-issue, age has become such an issue. People are the age they are chronologically but their internal age can be something so much different. Thank you for bringing this up in m/m romance.

K. Z. Snow said...

You're welcome!

Kim Fielding said...

What an interesting topic! I recently spent a few days in Paris with a friend who's gay and in his early 70s--he was my tour guide. We stayed in Le Marais, the gay neighborhood, with lots of handsome guys everywhere. My friend made it clear that while he's been in a committed relationship for 30 years, and while he's no longer a kid, he certainly ain't dead yet. We spent a lot of time rating butts. *g* Also, he has lots of interesting things to say and has seen so much first-hand. He'd make a great character in a book.

Anel Viz said...

I missed signing up for this blog topic because I’m not as focused as I was in my misspent youth. Instead, I’ll use the comments to put in my 2 cents’ worth.
I wouldn’t call the genre’s relative neglect of us older men ageism. On the whole, we are not ridiculed or stereotyped except by characters the author doesn’t think highly of, and many of the portraits are three-dimensional and fairly convincing when we appear (usually in some capacity other than the love interest). Perhaps the “ageism” of m/m romance relates to a recent thread about physical descriptions on one of my Yahoo groups. Pot bellies, dentures, double chins, liver spots, arthritic fingers, nose hair, constipation – warts and all, as the saying goes – don’t sit well in an idealized genre like romance. Nor does absent-mindedness (mine, for example), much less senility, at least not in the love interest.
(Come to think of it, I can’t recall even one young romance hero who suffers from hemorrhoids, though I have no clue how they all manage them given their proclivity to overindulge. Could it be the authors are exaggerating on that score – pun intended – or prefer not to mention that affliction? No – the anuses they describe are invariably tight and pink, certainly never prolapsed.)
But let me return to us senior citizens. We simply do not react to situations in accordance with the requirements of the genre. For one, our angst is seldom of a romantic nature. Let’s face it, we old fogies don’t stress out about relationships as much as less experienced couples (except when it comes to our children, of course). Sure, we have to deal with more than our fair share of sexual frustration, but in spite of that, we don’t masturbate every time we hop – or drag our creaking bones – into the shower.
I readily admit my sex life has slowed down somewhat with age, but it hasn’t petered out entirely. The same hold true for my fictional characters. All my novels take place over many years, and the characters age over time. The City of Lovely Brothers contains detailed passages of Caliban and Nick making love in their fifties, and Gérard (The Memoirs of Colonel Gérard Vreilhac) remains sexually active at the end of his long life, though I stop the graphic descriptions somewhere in his sixties. As for my shorter works, I often don’t bother specifying the age of my main characters. It wouldn’t surprise me if readers imagine them as younger than I do. Still, Evan in “A Christmas Carol” has an adult nephew, and t should be fairly clear that Cameron in “Alma’s Will” is about forty, the couple in “The Fire Eaters” at least in their late forties, and the main character in “Proteus” (the first story in Kaleidoscope) in his seventies.
I hasten to add that you should not avoid my books just because the thought of older men having sex grosses you out. They also do it when they’re still young.

sxswann said...

Great topic! As a woman rapidly approaching 50 (like in 12 days), I enjoy reading all types of characters but I do have an appreciation for those that have been through the wars. As I used to say when I was hiring people - no princesses need apply - I need people who've been through some crap and aren't going to fold at the first sign of imperfection.

I loved Lynn's New Orleans stories and I've read many of the other authors who posted here as well and I think the trick is to write compelling characters and stories, regardless of the ages of the protagonists. I write reviews and have reading groups with folks who range in age from 21 to 60, so I'm sure there is an audience for all these wonderful stories.

Kayelle Allen said...

I've enjoyed these posts and the comments that go along with them. Quite an education. Thanks for doing this, KZ.

K. Z. Snow said...

Anel, thank you so much for your candid comments.

I don't particularly like the term ageism either. As I said in a Goodreads group, I used it primarily to telegraph what these posts were about. One word instead of a rambling descriptive paragraph is simply syllabic economy.

So true what you said about "the requirements of the genre." I think we all accept them, even embrace them, regardless of age. I can only speak for myself, but as long as my memory remains intact -- and recollection can be richly emotional as well as sensory -- I can easily recall the first flush of love, the thrill of sexual attraction. (Actually, that remains more than a memory. :)).

K. Z. Snow said...

sxswann, Happy Birthday!

K. Z. Snow said...

You're more than welcome, Kayelle. I'm so glad you contributed.

Adriana said...

Here's my favorite comment from today's selections - "I’ve found that I can shock and excite people half my age. How cool is that?" TY, Belinda.

To me, that's the secret in a nutshell, staying open to excitement and letting it roll through us and onto the page.


Jeanne said...

Gosh, darn, talk about short term memory loss! I was so excited to find at "Kyle's Bed & Breakfast" several current episodes that are so revelent to this topic. Please check it out at: