Welcome to the Queer Romance Blog Hop, where queer writers and readers of queer romance share their thoughts on the genre, as well as a few recommendations for books to read! Everyone participating in this blog hop identifies as queer and also reads and/or writes (or edits, or reviews!) queer romance. For our purposes, queer romance refers to books with:
1. LGBTQ+ main characters
2. In romantic relationships
3. That have a happy ending. (No Brokeback Mountain here, folks!)
Hi there! I’m Laylah Hunter, and I sort of accidentally sparked this thing. I got on chat with Heidi Belleau and basically said “let me whine at yooouuuu,” and she said “let’s do something constructive and fun instead!” and then she did all the work. I am a writer of queer fiction, usually sf/f/h, usually romantic and/or erotic. I have a variety of short pieces out now and my first novel, Gabriel’s City: A tale of fables and fortunes, will be published by Riptide in 2014.
Also, as you’ll see below, I CAN’T STOP TALKING ONCE YOU GET ME STARTED.
1. Let’s start off with the getting-to-know-you stuff: How do you identify, and what does that mean to you? Whatever level of detail you’re comfortable with, of course!
My bio identifies me as a third-gendered butch queer: I don’t identify with either binary gender, I am more comfortable presenting in ways that read as traditionally masculine, and I have a multiple-gender sexual orientation. There aren’t a lot of orientation words that work for genderqueer people, honestly, since the major ones require you to define what you like in relation to what you are. My attraction to people doesn’t hinge on the state of their pants parts. My preference in relationships is for other people who are also into multiple genders or variable gender expression, so they don’t try to box me in.
2. What’s your preferred “flavour” of queer romance (e.g. trans*, f/f, m/m, menage with queer characters, etc.) Why?
Seriously, though, I am about as choosy about imaginary people’s gender as I am about real-life people’s gender. I’m a little burned out right now on the mainstream [cis, young, white, thin] m/m romance stuff, but that’s more a matter of needing variety in my diet than a consistent preference.
The stories I’m writing right now include some f/f and some m/m where one of the men is trans*, and I have a few things in the pipeline right now that should be out this winter and will broaden my spectrum a bit. One is primarily m/m with some fantasy sex-shifting elements, and the other is an anthology piece featuring a human woman and two aliens from a single-sexed species. Taking a break from all penises all the time!
I’m reading mostly outside romance entirely right now, but if anyone has recs for f/f or trans* of any orientation I would love to hear them. (Yes, I have already preordered Iron and Velvet from Riptide.)
3. Do you write/read/review? Do you think being queer affects your participation or platform in romancelandia?
I write and read. I still honestly have no idea how to have a platform, but being queer definitely affects my participation. (I think this is an element that a lot of minority experiences have in common: it affects your participation in damn near everything; you don’t have the luxury of not noticing how people in your group are treated.) When I write, I am writing for a queer audience; I want to tell stories about our desire and our adventures and our triumphs. I hope that straight people can relate to the stories too—we do share a lot of common ground—but I’m writing for people like me first and foremost.
When I read, whether romance or otherwise, I’m always conscious of how queer characters are treated (and whether genderqueer people even exist)—not only whether characters/the narrative express homophobia, but how much the author draws us as three-dimensional characters instead of resorting to stereotype. Like I said, I don’t have the luxury of not noticing. It’s personal.
4. What drew you to queer romance?
I stumbled in here sort of sideways, to be honest. I’d been in fandom for a while, involved with the huge and thriving fanfic culture and all its queering practices (and a lot of the same growing pains re: “it’s all m/m” that I’m seeing in romancelandia now). I’d also been reading some queer erotica by people like Patrick Califia and Carol Queen (and okay I might have read Mr. Benson about a dozen times) since I was a baby butch just old enough to buy the books.
So when I started writing my first novel it was going to be a story about two guys having these amazing dangerous adventures together and oh yeah falling for each other. And I kept thinking, “I have no idea where I could possibly sell this,” probably in 2005 or 2006, which was when the first part of the first draft happened. Jump forward a few years and ebooks are popular and the genre is apparently exploding, and I went, wait, there IS a market for some of the stuff I’ve been writing. And started trying to poke around and read things and learn this new literary world. Before then I’d assumed that if I ever got anywhere in publishing it would be with a “traditional” sf/f house, but I love being able to have the characters’ connections with each other be as important as the fantastic world around them.
5. What do you love about queer romance in general, and/or your specific subgenre?
My specific subgenre is sf/f, which I’m told means I will never sell very well. But it means I get to make up the rules for worlds as I go along, which is amazingly freeing and a super cool thing to be able to do when the rules of the real world are stacked against you. It’s a liberating act to be able to scrap social assumptions we take for granted and write a book where different cultural rules apply. My literary heroes are people like Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler, people who have taken spec fic’s freedoms and used them to write beautiful, thoughtful stories that address how we feel about race, about gender, about sexuality.
More recently, Kameron Hurley’s God War is not even remotely a romance but it is an amazing piece of gritty, intense sci fi about queer characters of color, so if you read outside romance at all and that sounds even the littlest bit tempting, pick it up.
6. What’s your pet peeve?
I’m going to assume you mean “in queer romance” because otherwise we’ll be here all day. ;)
In spec fic: stories that assume homophobia is a given, not because they’re trying to actively engage with homophobia as a concept but out of some sense that This Is Just How People Are. Corollary, more common in fantasy than sci fi: stories where the queer character is stunned and confused by their Unnatural Feelings, because surely Nobody Else Has Ever Felt Like This. No. We have always existed in some form or another. Different times and places have had varying ideas about our worth and social roles. It’s not a monolith in the real world, so don’t sloppy default it in your fic.
In contemporary: the thing I’ve taken to calling “the Broadway musical moment.” The moment when a character, on discovering someone else is gay or on suspecting in the aftermath of great sex that he is himself, goes, “But I cannot be gay! I do not like interior decorating or Broadway musicals! I am sports fan!” or alternately, “Well I may be gay but I want you to know that I do not like interior decorating or Broadway musicals, and indeed I am sports fan!” In that moment I am entirely thrown out of the narrative. It says to me, this is a book for straight people, and more specifically for straight people who don’t know any gay people in real life. It’s like this awkward “public service announcement!” moment that then sets the bar embarrassingly low. “Public service announcement! Women are not all obsessed with shoes and makeup!” Who are you writing for if your reader still needs to be told that? I want to read stories that assume the reader has already gotten the message and doesn’t need to have it spelled out repeatedly.
7. What growth would you like to see in the genre, going forward? Any ideas on how to accomplish that?
More LBTQ. It is awesome that cis m/m romance is doing so well. It is a huge step forward and an indication of a lot of expansion in the romance genre. Now let’s keep going. More of the rest of the rainbow. More heroes who aren’t young, white, and conventionally attractive. The genre likes to say we’re celebrating diversity. Let’s try to do that across multiple axes.
That has to be two-pronged, obviously. Writers need to tell the stories, and tell them well. And readers need to give them a chance. Progress has never come from people sitting back and doing what’s comfortable, reliable, a safe investment. Progress takes risk and willingness to change.
8. Do you seek out other queer authors when you read?
I wouldn’t say I seek them out, but I suspect I’m more likely to read them a second time. There are definitely straight authors who can write about queer characters in ways that I enjoy and appreciate, but I think queer authors more often speak to me, not just about me.
9. How do you feel, in general, about straight people’s participation in reading, writing, and reviewing queer romance?
You had to put a tough one in here, huh Heidi?
Honestly? Conflicted. On the one hand, it’s always good for a writer to have a broader potential audience, and I know there are straight folks for whom reading m/m romance has been a starting point for their involvement with gay rights and queer community issues, and that’s great. On the other hand, I’ve also seen people for whom that “involvement” in gay rights amounts to being delighted that gay marriage means their favorite fictional characters can tie the knot. And that kind of thing is belittling; the real people affected should be more important than the fantasy.
I think that’s the major thing that I would ask of straight people who are involved in queer romance: remember that your fantasy is constructed from queer people’s reality. It’s okay to have the fantasy, but the real people can see you doing it—so please remember we’re here and we’re affected.
10. Rec us 3 titles in your chosen subgenre and tell us why you love them.
I’m pretty sure everything I have here is “x with romantic elements” rather than purely romance, but if you got through everything I had to say so far you’re not surprised, right?
Evensong’s Heir, by L.S. Baird. Beautiful sweeping fantasy with political intrigue, high adventure, and the holy magic of song. Also, a young man falling in love and an old soldier regaining his faith. The main characters do a fantastic job of demonstrating that you don’t need to be a big butch dude to be fierce as hell.
Lunatic Fringe, by Allison Moon. Lesbian werewolves, and idealistic college feminism. Bear with it if the blunt ideology laid out in the first few chapters feels heavy-handed to you; it’s there to set the stage for Lexie to figure out her more nuanced path. This felt so true to my college experiences (with only slightly more wolfing out)—I came from a small-town background almost like Lexie’s, and I empathized so much with her struggle to figure out this new situation and learn a new set of mores. And the Pack as a group, too, are a sympathetic look at the awkward college stage of being a feminist who’s still working out the specifics.
Melting Point, by Patrick Califia. Short stories, written before he transitioned, when he was living and writing as a leatherdyke. Mostly f/f and kink-heavy, with some genderplay exploration starting to show up in some of them; these are more erotica than romance but they’re mad hot, okay, and they definitely feature queer characters getting happy endings. Not just “happy endings,” either, get your mind out of the gutter until you open the book.
And a bonus so I can bend the rules a bit:
The Bone Palace, by Amanda Downum. Furthest out from the requirements, I think; this was marketed as straight-up fantasy, and the series lead is a straight cis woman. But she shares the spotlight in each book with other crucial characters, and one of those characters this time is a trans woman who has a recognized place in her society, significant social status, and a love triangle plot that works out beautifully. She is both a fashion plate and an assassin. I adore her. Go meet her.
Thanks for reading (gosh, you have stamina) and for following the tour! Be sure to use the links below to check out more great posts from our participants!