I Am Not A Romance Writer…

(Originally published on The Blogger Girls)

I feel like I’m at a twelve-step meeting. “Hello, my name is Marshall. And I am not a romance writer.” Instead of saying, “Hello Marshall” you’re probably saying, “Huh?” or if your language is more colorful, “What the fuck?” I get your confusion. First of all, this is an m/m romance blog. Second, I publish with an m/m romance publisher. And third, as you may already know, I market to the m/m romance audience.

So, how did I end up here? Well, like many other sites, The Blogger Girls have been gracious enough to review my books and have gone the extra mile and asked me to blog. How did I get my not-m/m romance books published with an m/m romance publisher? MLR Press publishes a lot of m/m romance but they also publish gay fiction and have a special interest in gay mystery. Why do I market my books to m/m romance readers? Like any audience the m/m romance audience is not monolithic. Certainly, some readers exclusively read m/m romance, while others like to mix it up with other genres; sometimes gay mysteries.

What I am is a gay fiction writer, though I am also a mystery writer – with or without the gay in front of it – and occasionally a gay romantic comedy writer. (Romantic comedy and romance are distinctly different genres but that’s a blog of a different color.) After reading that, some of you may have gone back to “huh?” and “WTF?” Again, I get your confusion. A lot of writers and readers in the m/m romance community use the terms gay fiction and m/m synonymously. I don’t believe that to be true.

A friend of mine recently asked me “Why are some books called romance novels and others aren’t? Don’t most books have romance in them?” I think the explanation I gave is a pretty good one, I replied, “In a romance novel, whatever the main character(s) central problem is it is solved by love. In other genres, the main character(s) problem is solved by other means and love is a kind of trophy granted for solving the problem.”

This explanation applies to the central differences between m/m and gay fiction. In m/m romance the HEA has to be a committed relationship between two men (I hesitate to say gay men because the characters don’t always begin that way and an HEA with one of the men identified as bi is possible.) In gay fiction, an HEA is optional. And, if there is an HEA it very likely has to do with self-acceptance, self-awareness or an increase in self-esteem. Sometimes within a relationship and sometimes not.

Additionally, there are many sub-rules to the m/m romance genre. Rules which I know about because readers incorrectly identify my work is m/m and then complain that I don’t follow the rules.

The biggest rule I break is that I use the HEA common to all mysteries. The crime is solved. In a mystery that is the HEA. Sometimes private investigator Nick Nowak’s life ends on an up note and sometimes it ends on a down note. It really depends on what’s going on in his life. But the crime is always solved.

Another rule I break is that Nick is a guy who has a lot of sex particularly in the early books. He has recreational sex, anonymous sex, friendly sex, angry sex, break-up sex, good sex, bad sex, mournful sex, loving sex, vengeful sex, and, finally, at the end of Boystown 6, safe sex (FYI: safe sex did not exist before 1983). From what I’ve seen in m/m promiscuous characters secretly want a boyfriend despite all the hot sex they’re having or they’re the bad guy or…both.

And, speaking of sex, not a lot of the sex in the books is emotional. That’s another rule I break. Sex needs to be emotional in m/m romance. Nick has a tendency to act like a gay James Bond or a gay Mike Hammer. Some of this is my having fun with those traditionally heterosexual archetypes and some of it has to do with the period.

The books, so far, cover the period between 1979 and 1984. This was a very sexually active period in the gay community. To truly understand that you have to remember that same-sex relationships were still criminal in the majority of the country (as they were until 2003). Illinois repealed these laws in 1961, but the population of Chicago was composed of many transplants from places with oppressive sodomy laws. The heightened sexuality of the 1970s and early 1980s was, in large part, a reaction to the gradual legalization of gay sex. Since it was legal to have sex in places like San Francisco, New York and Chicago, guys wanted to have it. They were asserting their newly granted rights and sex was in the air.

Another important way that I break the rules of m/m romance is Nick’s relationship to monogamy. He was monogamous in his first relationship but in his relationship with Bert Harker he is not. The two of them talk about it rarely but Harker knows what Nick is up to and doesn’t make any moves to stop him. There are some very good reasons for their relationship to be set up that way but you’re going to have to read the books to find out.

I know that open relationships sometimes happen in m/m romance but I’m fairly certain that if a couple or a character begin a book in an open relationship it’s closed by the end of the book. (I know there’s ménage romance out there but I don’t know anything about the rules for that genre.)

Okay, so after looking back over all the ways I break the rules of m/m romance I have to say that if that were what I was trying to do that I’d really suck at it. No, I’m mainly a mystery writer. The Boystown series is much more romantic than a lot of mysteries, even gay mysteries. One reader went so far as to call it “the most romantic non-romance she’d very read.” As her comment demonstrates, romantic is a quality that a book might have while romance is a structural form.

I guess you could call me a romantic writer, but not a romance writer.
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Published on September 17, 2014 09:57 Tags: gay-fiction, gay-mystery, gay-romance, m-m-romance
Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)    post a comment »
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message 1: by Antonella (new)

Antonella Well, you are not a romance writer, but you are an excellent writer and there is a relationship in your books: the package is appealing for part of the m/m romance readers ;-)


message 2: by Marshall (new)

Marshall Thornton Thanks Antonella!


message 3: by Eli (new)

Eli Easton Really enjoyed the Ghost Slept Over. I'll be checking out the rest of your books. Thank you! (I'm glad you break the rules)


message 4: by Marshall (new)

Marshall Thornton Eli wrote: "Really enjoyed the Ghost Slept Over. I'll be checking out the rest of your books. Thank you! (I'm glad you break the rules)"

Thanks so much!


message 5: by Connie (new)

Connie Cat I am absolutely loving the Boystown audiobooks. Nick Nowak is a fabulous character and Brad Langer is doing a great job narrating. Will the audiobook for Book 7 be coming out with the book release in March?


message 6: by Marshall (new)

Marshall Thornton I'm so glad you're enjoying the series. The audiobook landscape has been changing and I'm not entirely sure I'll be able to put the seventh book on audio. If it happens it won't be until next fall.


message 7: by Emma Sea (new)

Emma Sea “In a romance novel, whatever the main character(s) central problem is it is solved by love. In other genres, the main character(s) problem is solved by other means and love is a kind of trophy granted for solving the problem.”

That's . . . succinct genius!


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