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Of Which Reason Knows Nothing

The heart has its reasons, of which Reason knows nothing.
                                                                                     Pascal


So, my Saturday's off to a cool and rather unexpected start: I've just signed a contract for a book on writing M/M fiction -- due out in December. Just in time for the holidays. 

More details to follow, obviously. But as I sit here figuring out chapter titles, who I can hit up for interviews, whether I should try to include excerpts or not, it occurs to me that it might be helpful to get some input from readers. True anyone who writes M/M fiction is most likely a fan and a reader, but there's something different in the way a writer approaches a piece of fiction and the way someone who simply and purely reads, does. 

At least, it's almost impossible for me to put aside that analytical, critical part of my brain that thinks...hmmm. Is that the best word choice? Is that how I would handle that? Where did she come up with that image?   

Anyway, this isn't a scientific collecting of data or anything, but I'd be interested in hearing why you personally read and/or write M/M (or gay) fiction. Why this and not something else? 

I know a number of women have written me mentioning how disappointing they find heterosexual romance novels, but I've always wondered why those women (those of them who write, anyway) don't themselves write the kinds of heterosexual romance they would enjoy reading?  Why do they write M/M fiction? Is it just because there's a market for it? But how does that explain fan fiction where nobody's getting paid? 

Anyway, I could speculate forever, but I'd rather hear from readers and other writers. What attracts you to this genre? Can you define it? Oh, and...can I quote you?

By the way, feel free to contact me off-journal through my website, if you prefer.

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( 37 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
jgraeme2007
Sep. 8th, 2007 11:45 pm (UTC)
Just curious, but why & where would you want to use a quote?

Thanks for your thoughts, Liz. I'll be using a lot of quotes from interviews, etc. in this book. I'm pretty sure no one would be interested in listening to all me all the time, even if it is on my favorite subject: writing & publishing.

reishin
Sep. 9th, 2007 01:51 am (UTC)
It's not necessarily about M/F or M/M entirely, although you know, M/M is insanely hot. (shallow, shallow, shallow, haha) The appeal of books is in characterization. I have to like the main character to read the book. In most of the M/F books I had read, albeit this was when I was way younger and into romance, the female characters just weren't strong enough for me. They didn't have substance, and I couldn't understand why the male characters were falling for them. (Which meant, naturally, in my head, just take out the uninteresting character and replace it with a more interesting one - the beginning of fanfic interests if you will. For tv shows, anime series, and movies, the 'best' friend' or even villain is more appealing than the targeted love interest usually).

If you can't sell me on the characters, you can't sell me on their relationships; you can't get me to care about what's happening with them. The authors that I like (Patricia Briggs, Tanya Huff, Diana Gabaldon, Laurie Marks) really sell that point, especially in M/M, sci fi, and fantasy. The focus isn't on their 'relationships' or sexuality even, it's about them and whatever story they have to tell.

Erm, I don't know if that answered the question or if I fudged it a bit. ah well.

Alanna
jgraeme2007
Sep. 9th, 2007 01:57 pm (UTC)
For tv shows, anime series, and movies, the 'best' friend' or even villain is more appealing than the targeted love interest usually).

Now this I found to be a fascinating -- and very true -- statement. Especially in friendships that are based on partnerships/teams -- and when it comes to villains. Defintely worth exploring.
txilar
Sep. 9th, 2007 03:15 am (UTC)
I've been meaning to say 'hi' and thanks for adding back. I'll try not to froth or blather ^_~

As for what attracts /me/ as a reader and writer is, like you point out, the sometime disappointing stereotypes, cliches, and unreal aspects of many het romances. Certainly not all of them, and it isn't just a desire for something new and different. My mom was a technical editor and read romance novels just for escapism I suppose. I began reading her books (I'd do voice overs for her from the ridiculous blurbs on the book: at ten. ^_^) at a young age and got really tired, really quick of the formulaic style. The few books I enjoyed were often one-time authors, who, I think, did what you suggest: wrote what they wanted to read. For some reason, it didn't work, and they seem to have never done it again.

I see a lot of slash fanfiction that does the same thing, so the genre isn't wholly safe. I don't think it's just juvenile writers or inexperience either. I suspect the formula is so entrenched because it must be popular. And that's why some slash gets the same workover.

That said, luckily, there slash and m/m that is completely free of formula and cliché offers readers and writers freedom to explore, reflect something more real for them, and yes, dabble in something new and faintly taboo.

At least, that's sort of what draws me. ^_^ The normal formula can be made to work, but it isn't the only option; there are societal and cultural concerns to take into account, and offers a whole new spectrum of situations and ways to reflect what's around me. And it has all along; I've had elements if not outright m/m in my writing as long as I've been writing, long before I'd heard of the genre or even the m/m genre.

As a reader, I'm nearly guaranteed I can't work out the plot just because C follows B, follows het option A. As a writer, I don't /have/ to do what's expected. I'm not published, so the market doesn't affect me!

Damn, I said I wouldn't blather, but I least I didn't froth!
jgraeme2007
Sep. 9th, 2007 02:02 pm (UTC)
I see a lot of slash fanfiction that does the same thing, so the genre isn't wholly safe. I don't think it's just juvenile writers or inexperience either. I suspect the formula is so entrenched because it must be popular. And that's why some slash gets the same workover.

Such a good point! The bewildering emasculation of tough, virile male canon characters into whimpering little boys. What up? And most puzzling of all, often written by chicks who decry stereotypical het romance.

It's a puzzler, that's for sure.

You didn't blather at all. Good post!
(no subject) - txilar - Sep. 11th, 2007 04:19 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jgraeme2007 - Sep. 12th, 2007 06:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - txilar - Sep. 12th, 2007 05:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - jukebox_csi - Sep. 13th, 2007 11:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jgraeme2007 - Sep. 18th, 2007 02:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
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jgraeme2007
Sep. 9th, 2007 02:24 pm (UTC)
I appreciate your honesty and insight, Alex. The interest in M/M fiction doesn't seem easily defined or dismissed -- and it's clearly much more prevalent than one would initially think.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - jgraeme2007 - Sep. 10th, 2007 03:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - jgraeme2007 - Sep. 10th, 2007 03:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
widowedanthem
Sep. 9th, 2007 01:13 pm (UTC)
Besides the fact that I find m/m hot in the same way straight guys find lesbian porno hot? There's just more tension in slash. There's so much more to overcome (personal issues, homophobic friends and family, the era the fiction is set in, etc) and that just makes it more thrilling.

Het tends to be bland and repetitive and you know it'll end well eventually. With slash, there's always a possibility it'll screw up bigtime.

Perhaps because I'm only 17, slash also relates to me more. Het relationships in fiction are romantiscised to the point where it just seems unrealistic and ridiculous. Slash has the drunken fumblings, the underlying sexual tension and the doubts and uncertainties.. All het people ever care about is whether they have a chance. There's more stuff in slash.

Also, on a more immature level, descriptions of het sex squicks me. Teenage boys can make this sound with their cheeks to represent lesbian sex and its revolting. Het sex scenes reminds me of that; crude, messy and a turn off.
jgraeme2007
Sep. 9th, 2007 02:36 pm (UTC)
Het tends to be bland and repetitive and you know it'll end well eventually. With slash, there's always a possibility it'll screw up bigtime.

Wow. Very interesting post.

Regarding the quote above -- are you referring mostly to fan fiction or are you including published M/M writing as well, meaning ebooks or print books.

I'm asking because a number of the M/M publishers do request a happy or at least hopeful ending, but apparently even so it's not quite as formulaic? (I don't want to put words in your mouth, so you tell me if I'm missing the mark).
(no subject) - widowedanthem - Sep. 9th, 2007 11:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jgraeme2007 - Sep. 10th, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
thelastaerie
Sep. 10th, 2007 01:21 pm (UTC)
Once I picked up David Leavitt's "The Lost Language of Crane" when I was in high school, I never looked back. I still read some mysteries with mostly straight characters cos that's my favourite genre, but when it comes to romance/relationship novels, I read exclusively m/m.

On a superficial level, i'd say that because m/m sex turns me on. I tried to explain this to my hubby once with simple math like, "one guy is hot, two hot guys together is hotter", he kind of understood it the same way why men love lesbian sex :P

On a sligthly less-shallow level, I love reading about gay love/relationship because there are still so many struggles and obstacles attached to it, unlike straight relationships, which I think, have reached to a point that, they only have themselves to blame if the relationship doesn't work out. That's what makes gay relationship so much more interesting (and sometimes heartwrenching) to read.

Another possible reason why I am drawn to m/m fiction is that I want to read about the sensitive side of men, I know this is slighly stereotyping, it's just that in a m/f fiction, it's not that often we get to see men opening their heart or struggling with their emotions etc. This is partly due to all those "chick-fics" written mostly from a straight woman's (whinging) perspective. I think they killed off m/f romance novel for me.

As to what work and what doesn't work for me. I've tried a couple of very raunchy m/m novels, where the sex:plot ratio is about 70:30, i was bored by the 3rd sex scene :P

It's always good to have an engaging storyline, well-drawn characters (such as Adrien & Jake, whom I am totally obsessed with) and good sex scenes that's plot-related or tell you something about the characters. Because sex is never just sex, right?

Eve
jgraeme2007
Sep. 10th, 2007 02:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Eve. A tactful woman, if there ever was one. ;-D

And you're right. I can't wait til I throw the sex question out. I'm dying to see if all my pet theories are supported by what readers actually want.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 12th, 2007 03:17 am (UTC)
it's not really the sex
Why would a het gal enjoy a m/m story? I don't think it is any one reason for anyone. Here are my wandering thoughts this evening. It does appear to be filling a void that has developed in the last 5 years or so in the fiction world. Much fiction is now written by women with women as main characters. I grew up when fiction was written by men with men as main characters. This would sound very strange to people who know me as I have been raised to be very strong and trained to physically kick butt, but I got tired of all the female characters, it was overload, I wanted the familar again. It seems it is all about super females, doing super things when reality is so very different, or happy endings that just aren't going to happen for many of us. The books today that do have male characters are often in political thrillers and reading political thrillers after watching the nightly news is hard to do. So, the het book are no longer attractive for reading pleasure or thoughtful speculation. There are great het books being written of course, but in the tech age where I'd expect more books and more authors, the big pubs are conentrating on sure things, and every year I find fewer and fewer new authors whose work I enjoy and admire. Regaring the sex? Well, I think m/m novels are the equivalent of f/f mud wrestling. Sexy? Oh, yeah!
jgraeme2007
Sep. 12th, 2007 05:41 am (UTC)
Re: it's not really the sex
Much fiction is now written by women with women as main characters. I grew up when fiction was written by men with men as main characters. This would sound very strange to people who know me as I have been raised to be very strong and trained to physically kick butt, but I got tired of all the female characters, it was overload, I wanted the familar again.

Now that's one explanation that's totally new to me. Very intriguing!
sarahblack5
Sep. 12th, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC)
Hi, Hunny Bunny
Hey, I have my name back! For today at least, until I lose the post-it note where I wrote my pasword. This is a bit off topic, but I was thinking about your new project (big congrats). One of the flash fiction journals that sometimes publishes my stories has an editor's and publisher's page, and I thought this month's was very interesting. Debi Orton, the publisher of flashquake, shared some thoughts on why stories are rejected- this journal publishes literary flash, but I thought her concerns and suggestions were across the board for all fiction writers.

One of the editors mentioned a concern that the stories submitted, while well written, didn't have anything new to say on familiar subjects. Fresh light was not shed on the basic human conundrums- love, death, etc.

Here are her suggestions for raising a story beyond that problem: 1. Give it a strong sense of place, one in which the story could not have been written anywhere else. 2. A compelling situation (read- strong and real conflict), 3. Interesting characters- and I think romance is about characters more than any other genre, 4. Provocative subjects, and 5. Looking at the familiar from a different point of view.

I'm paraphrasing here, but the URL if you want to read it is www.flashquake.org, and the link to the publisher's page is at the bottom. There is also a very interesting article on flash writing- on the role of memory- by Michael Wilson under the flash writing link. (And my story Fish Camp is under the Editor's Picks- the only thing I've been able to write after my horrible 6 months in Alaska)
jgraeme2007
Sep. 12th, 2007 03:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Hi, Hunny Bunny
Hey, Sarah, thanks for that link and those thoughts.

It's very interesting as I talk to other writers and even as I dissect my own creative process -- our focus is often so different from that of our publishers. In the end we all -- or at least so far no one will admit otherwise -- want to tell intelligent, well-crafted, and meaningful stories, which is something of a relief.

I think insight into why stories are rejected will be a biggie for this book. Thanks!
(Anonymous)
Sep. 16th, 2007 11:01 am (UTC)
I'm going to agree with Anonymous above. I've always enjoyed books with male protagonists more than books with female protagonists, so to me m/m fiction is just books with more guys in them. That said, i was never fond of m/m fiction where one or all male characters could easily pass as females, I mostly equal those kind of m/m stories to f/m stories and avoid them. I also feel that if you compare m/m and f/m romances the dynamic between two men is very different (don't want to say more equal because it's more complicated than that) than the dynamic between a man and a woman and in f/m romance you usually either see very weak woman or very strong woman (the latter being the trend lately), which can get tiresome pretty fast.
jgraeme2007
Sep. 16th, 2007 04:31 pm (UTC)
That said, i was never fond of m/m fiction where one or all male characters could easily pass as females, I mostly equal those kind of m/m stories to f/m stories and avoid them.

Yep, I so agree. What it's interesting to me, though, is to take a classic m/f plot and turn it on it's head by making it m/m. But the catch is in making both characters truly male. I rarely see it successfully done, but I love that dynamic. It's loaded with potential.

Thanks for your comment -- you've reminded me of a point I want to make sure and address.

(Anonymous)
Sep. 19th, 2007 05:27 am (UTC)
How do you do that thing you do?
It looks like everyone has already covered the reasons WHY I like m/m fiction. As for the HOW, I'll be very interested in what you come up with for your book. It is frustrating as someone who consumes a lot of the stuff not to be able to produce it as well - if only for my own enjoyment. I mean I come up with stories in my head that have the elements I like (and don’t find often enough in published stuff) but they’re really just episodes or scenes. I can't even flesh those out with words on a page much less all the connecting stuff to make a complete story. (BTW, I just realized that these “movies” in my head never include sex scenes. There is physical affection but not the actual act. I like a little sex in a story but, I can easily live without it as long as there's a meaningful relationship developing.)

I've often wished there was a web site where I could submit story criteria and have it written up by a real writer. That's really all I come up with, bits and pieces: it should have this character, and this character, and this should happen, and there should be these events leading to this conclusion. It's just a sketch. I don't think you can boil writing down to a formula, can you? A good story is somehow more than the sum of it's parts. You (good) authors work some kind of magic that's more than just fleshing out a + b + c. Is that what you'll be trying to explain?

Just as an aside (as if this isn't long enough as it is!), it seems to me that one of the hardest things to do is to come up with ways to keep the romantic duo apart for much of the story w/o introducing artificial obstacles. That's something you've done brilliantly with Adrien & Jake and it's one of the reasons I'm going crazy waiting for the next book!

jackie
jgraeme2007
Sep. 19th, 2007 07:01 pm (UTC)
Re: How do you do that thing you do?
Good lord. You're definitely on my wave-length, Jackie -- right down to your subject header which is one of my sub-chapter headings.

The book seems to be shaping into a practical guide, covering all the basic writing elements but especially slanted towards M/M fiction. And it has lots of interesting quotes (at least, I think they're interesting) from other writers, editors, reviewers, publishers, readers -- I may even try and get a few booksellers to comment. It's going to be a wealth of information -- much more than my own tips and tricks, although I'm including all that stuff too.

In fact, I may just toss it out to my own mailing list and double-check what people are most interested in hearing about....

Thanks for the kind words!
andrea__88
Oct. 2nd, 2007 12:45 am (UTC)
The m/f stories I've read,I find boring. The characters are stereotypical and the sex scenes are just sex, its empty. I could care less that they had sex, where as when Adrien and Jake kissed, I cheered. I find m/m characters more believable. Granted I have read stories where it was so sugary sweet my teeth hurt, painful to read but mostly I have read great stories where I cared about the characters. Overcoming obstacles, finding love- its more involved then the het I've read.

And I have to say I just spent the last 24 hours reading the first 2 Adrien English books - sleep is overrated ;o) And they are amazing and now my problem... do I wait 'til November for the revised edition or do I track down an old copy... Can't wait to read more and this writing tip book will be a pleasure to read as well.
jgraeme2007
Oct. 2nd, 2007 02:35 pm (UTC)
And I have to say I just spent the last 24 hours reading the first 2 Adrien English books - sleep is overrated ;o) And they are amazing and now my problem... do I wait 'til November for the revised edition or do I track down an old copy... Can't wait to read more and this writing tip book will be a pleasure to read as well.


Well thank you very much. Always nice to hear.

Personally I would wait 'til November on the third book, but I'm flattered that you think that might be difficult.

One thing about the m/m fiction I've read -- and this is something I want to discuss in length in the writing book -- is the lack of believable, character-based conflict. I think it may stem from the fan fic roots of many of these authors. In fan fic very often the conflict revolves around getting this other supposedly straight character into bed, and it's not generally enough (without complications and subplots) to realistically sustain a longer work.
(no subject) - andrea__88 - Oct. 2nd, 2007 02:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
starwatcher307
Jan. 8th, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
Late to the party, but my two cents.
.
Hi. I came here through a friends-link to your latest entry discussing fanfic, and decided to see what else you had to say. Since your book is about to be published, you don't need this input now... but maybe for the next one?

The thing that draws me to m/m is the close emotional relationship, of the "best friends forever, your life means more to me than my own" depth. In much of fanfic based on 'buddy' shows, this is already present, even in the gen stories. And, especially in gen male-buddy stories, I think many people are drawn to that ideal of friendship which most of us hope to attain only once in our lives -- if ever. But frequently that relationship is depicted as so deep, and so close, that moving into a sexual relationship seems a natural and inevitable next step -- even if it brings with it all the problems arising from cultural beliefs and expectations. Then you move into dealing with the conflict but, eventually, Love Conquers All. *g*

I also agree with the 'one man is hot, two is hotter' explanation, but I don't need graphic sexual scenes if the author chooses to 'fade to black'. Just feeling the emotional resonance that is shared by the characters is satisfying.

In a het romance, the conflict (if any) is often because the characters are somewhat antagonistic -- until, of course, they realize that they Really Do Love Each Other. As someone else said, when that happens, the cultural expectation is that there are no obstacles to their joining; we know what will happen.

In a slash romance, on the other hand, the characters may or may not be antagonistic. (As I said, I prefer the BFF version.) But, once they realize that they Really Do Love Each Other, the cultural expectations are completely opposite. The men must deal with not only the societal bullshit, but their own internal cultural / sexual worldview and biases. Therefore, if they finally succeed and Love does indeed Conquer All, the victory is sweeter because the battle was harder.

I'm speaking only of fanfic; I haven't read any published m/m fiction. As you said about fanfic in a later post, I like reading about the characters I already know. Personally, I'll read gen or slash, as long as that BFF vibe is there. For me, that's the satisfying part.
.
jgraeme2007
Jan. 8th, 2008 06:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Late to the party, but my two cents.
The thing that draws me to m/m is the close emotional relationship, of the "best friends forever, your life means more to me than my own" depth. In much of fanfic based on 'buddy' shows, this is already present, even in the gen stories.

Yes...yes! And this is one of the main things I don't need/want to have over-explained or rationalized. Although, I suppose the exception would be those "meet" fics, where we see the two protags meeting for the first time, learning to work together, etc. It works in those stories, where it doesn't work as well for me is in fic where the partnership is long-standing -- it becomes confusing with what we see in canon about their relationship at that stage.

And, especially in gen male-buddy stories, I think many people are drawn to that ideal of friendship which most of us hope to attain only once in our lives -- if ever.

The idea of your other half, your soul mate maybe? Being human can be a lonely thing -- we don't just eat, drink, sleep -- we all want to be understood, appreciated, loved unconditionally.

The idea of Coming First for someone else. It's a major theme in all love stories.

But frequently that relationship is depicted as so deep, and so close, that moving into a sexual relationship seems a natural and inevitable next step -- even if it brings with it all the problems arising from cultural beliefs and expectations.

Human sexuality -- for evolved life forms it's astonishing to me how little we understand of it, how afraid we are to really explore how and why we love, how and why we bond...

Is it just modern Western civilization that's so weirdly unimaginative and narrow-minded when it comes down to it? So many people are uncomfortable -- threatened -- if they can't stick a neat little label on you. One of the things I found refreshing about the Pros fandom was the number of stories that seemed to take for granted that falling in love with a person would have to do more with who the person was than the equipment. It's a theme endlessly explored, but I enjoy the exploration -- although I really, REALLY get tired of writers taking pains to clarify that the characters aren't actually gay. Again with the labels.

Then you move into dealing with the conflict but, eventually, Love Conquers All. *g*

Conflict. One of my very favorite topics for M/M fiction.

I also agree with the 'one man is hot, two is hotter' explanation, but I don't need graphic sexual scenes if the author chooses to 'fade to black'. Just feeling the emotional resonance that is shared by the characters is satisfying.

It's about finding a satisfying balance. But then that's true of every element in successful writing.

Thanks for your thoughts on this.

Re: Late to the party, but my two cents. - jgraeme2007 - Jan. 8th, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
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