Author Steve Milton is joining us today, and will be back as a regular monthly contributor here at The Novel Approach. I’m so pleased to welcome him and look so forward to the insights and perspectives he’ll be bringing to the blog.
Write What You Want to Know
Who should be writing gay romance anyway? Readers of hetero romance assume that gay romance is read and written by gay men. Many women new to reading or writing the genre expect to be odd ducks out because of their gender — until they find out that they’re in good company. Of course most of our readers and writers are women.
But even in a genre that prides itself on promoting inclusiveness and acceptance, some male readers and writers grimace and complain that women shouldn’t be writing romance between two men, because they just can’t get it right, or worse, because it’s somehow demeaning to gay men.
I’m here to tell you — as one of the few “openly male” writers in gay romance — that women very much belong. And I say that even after having read many a female-written gay sex scene that had basic, physiological misunderstandings of male sexuality, and many a female-written gay sex scene that had men saying things I’ve never heard any man say.
For all the female writers who don’t know men, lots do. Anyone can be a hack, and in fiction outside this genre, we can certainly find lots of men who can’t write women, women who can’t write men, adults who can’t write children, and so on. That should be seen as a comment on those writers’ ability, not on the ability of writers to portray something that falls outside their direct experience.
Because here is the key point: if we restrict ourselves to writing what we directly know and experience, then we’re writing memoirs, not fiction. And while memoirs are a valid literary genre, that’s not what we’re promising the reader when we bill something as fiction. And if you’re going to impugn women who write gay fiction, then you might as well impugn science fiction writers who have never piloted a spaceship and mystery writers who have never covered up a murder.
Can women ever absolutely know what it’s really like to be a man? It doesn’t matter. It simply doesn’t matter. We’re doing fiction here, not anthropology. The purpose is to provide entertainment, and for both parties to have some fun in the process — and not necessarily always depict the literal reality of the world. That might seem obvious, but it’s a point often forgotten by the “women can’t write gay men” crowd. If the story is engaging and entertaining and makes you think or feel, then who cares whether so-and-so female author really understands what it’s like to hold your own cock in your hand?
Romance is certainly full of fantasy scenarios and unlikely coincidences. The very requirement of HEA/HFN is already a huge deviation from reality. And we all happily accept that deviation from reality, because in that moment, we know that this is fiction and not social science, and we gladly suspend disbelief. We should do the same when we object to how a woman might have handled some aspect of masculinity of her writing.
That said, one of the wonders of fiction is that multiple points of view can be simultaneously true. We can read a woman’s take on gay anal sex in the morning, and a man’s take on gay anal sex in the afternoon, and perhaps a transgendered person’s take in the evening. The joy of fiction is the diversity of perspective. That also means that male perspectives do have a place.
I’ve never directly encountered pushback for being an openly male writer of romance. But then, I’m not privy to readers’ or reviewers’ minds. When I was starting out, I knew that being an openly male writer in gay romance — even using a plainly male name, not gender-ambiguous initials — was considered career suicide. I didn’t care, much. Maybe some readers choose not to read books by male writers. I figure that they might not like my books anyway if they read them, so maybe it’s better for both of us if they avoid my books.
As a male writer in a genre that typically has all-male casts, I’ve enjoyed including women among my characters. They don’t get to join the sex scenes, but they are real, adult women, not merely the off-screen bitchy ex-wife and the adorable adopted toddler daughter who seem to be the extent of female characterization in some gay romance. I’ve built the series Collins Avenue Confidential around a recurring female character who, through varying degrees of involvement, helps gay men find love. And maybe it’s challenging for me as a man to write a major female character, but you know, I think I can do it. Because Homer didn’t go on any odysseys, Stephenie Meyer never kissed any vampires, and Agatha Christie (probably) didn’t kill anybody, yet they seemed to have done pretty ok writing about those experiences.
You don’t need to restrict yourself to writing what you know. Write what you want to know. I know my understanding of different people’s situations has expanded through me writing characters who are different from who I am. Women should write men, not only to expand their own understandings of men, but to provide to the world a woman’s view of men — a perfectly valid view, because, again, this is fiction not memoir. And to entertain. Which was the whole reason we’re doing this, isn’t it?
Write what you want. Write what interests you. Your characters don’t need to resemble the real you. And nothing is better than a multiplicity of perspectives on a multiplicity of human experience. As readers and writers of gay romance, we must embrace that ideal of inclusion, because a NO GIRLS ALLOWED or NO GUYS ALLOWED sign at the door of our gay romance treehouse doesn’t do anyone any good.
“It’s been twenty years.”
Steve has no interest in his high school reunion, until he remembers the one person who mattered to him back then: Mr. P, his senior-year English teacher. High school was rough for Steve, but Mr. P’s class was an oasis. Listening to Mr. P had sent Steve to pursue writing, and staring at Mr. P’s gorgeous face every morning made Steve come to terms with being gay.
Twenty years after graduation, Steve is decidedly single in Key West, but he can’t stop daydreaming about Mr. P — and sneaking into his upcoming high school reunion is his chance to make daydreams into reality.
“Maybe I’m ready for this now.”
David just got back into teaching after a long break. It wasn’t easy being outed to his wife and his students. After being shamed and fired from teaching, he tried living a new life in New York, but he wanted to get back to Florida and back to being a prep school English teacher.
Suddenly meeting his former student is a jolt back to David’s first days as a teacher, but can that former student be his future?
High School Reunion is a standalone second-chances gay romance with a feel-good HEA, a grumpy writer, a grumpier cat, literary discussions, old country music, Cuban coffee, and love hotter than the Key West sun.
About the Author
Steve Milton writes gay romances with sweet love, good humor, and hot sex. His stories tend toward the sweet and sexy, with not much angst and definitely no downers. Steve crafts feel-good stories with complex characters and interesting settings. He is a South Florida native, and when he’s not writing, he likes cats, cars, music, and coffee.
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