Today I am so pleased to welcome the most fabulous Damon Suede to Joyfully Jay. Damon has come to share some thoughts about writing and m/m romance. Please join me in giving him a big welcome!
Keeping Secrets: strong enough for a man but made for a romance
Today I wanted to talk a little about the appeal of secrets in romance in general and gay romance specifically. At the moment, I’m finishing up a romantic suspense novel that hinges on secrecy. Plotting and drafting this book have been a real blast because so much of romantic suspense arises form deception and misdirection.
On a practical, historical level, secrecy has a long association with same-sex desire in our culture because of the “Closet” and social anxieties about sexual difference. As long as folks have treated homo impulses as a sin, a crime, or a disease … some helpful bigot has stood on the sidelines wagging their finger at anyone who loves outside the box. Small wonder: shame is predicated upon private details you wish keep from public view. Not for nothing was it the “love that dare not speak its name.”
That’s one of the age-old justifications for distrusting LGBT people: “dirty queers” lie about things so we can hide in plain sight. Unfair, yes, Sucky, yes. Myopic, yes. But a life in the closet definitely has echoes of espionage: secret identities, code words, covert assignations, and operatives hidden in plain sight. “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” Governments and religious leaders have used LGBT “duplicity” to demonize and polarize millions of people.
But that’s just the negative side.
There’s also something seductive about a secret. As Gypsy Rose Lee observed, the sexiest part of your anatomy is the bit that stays covered. Secrets can be shared and the trust required to do so creates and demands intimacy. As any Greek dramatist can tell you shocking revelations and life changing disclosures guarantee crazy audience appeal. Like all good primates, we love to discover things and we are fascinated by the tension between apparent reality and hidden truth.
Isn’t that true in our real life relationships? We meet someone interesting and want to know more. The hidden details pique our interest. If we lose interest, we stop paying attention and allow the connection to wither. Our hidden truths bind us into communities, families, and couples.
THIS (I believe) is central to the role secrets play in LGBT romances. Some of my favorite moments in gay romance come from sudden reveals and eleventh hour confessions. One of my favorite things about gay romance is that it literally “speaks its name.” I grew up at a time when LGBT characters did anything but, so the current candor of LGBT romance hits me hard, inside and outside the book covers. Hell, one of the first things I do when I’m working on a character is figure out what they’re hiding from the other characters! I want to know all those ineffable details that we hold close and share slowly and at great cost.
Actually, I can’t think of anything I’ve written that isn’t driven by secrecy and the ways it empowers and traps people. In Hot Head, secret unrequited passion tortures Griff and Dante, pushing them right to the edge of safety. Grown Men’s Runt searches frantically for clues about whether or not Ox is an assassin come to “retire” him. In Horn Gate, Isaac spends the entire novella digging out his demon lover’s hidden name. In Bad Idea, Silas and Trip hide their phobias and peccadilloes until learn to trust each other (at extreme cost). All those secrets force dramatic choices and also define the sizzle between the couples.
Plus, there are levels of secrecy: embarrassing open secrets like Scarlett’s deranged crush on Ashley Wilkes, crushing private burdens like Darcy’s rescue of Georgiana, frankly romantic literature is chockablock with hidden parentage, unspoken alliances, and unrequited longing. All of these secrets act as a kind of seed of potential because they contain a potentially explosive hidden truth. That’s their power: should they be discovered and discussed worlds would end and lives would be ruined (or begun).
In a sense, every book starts as a secret that we only discover by opening them. They tease our curiosity and stoke interest by planting secrets deep and letting them blossom. But in romance I think that’s doubly true because of what Bertrand Russell calls “the secret springs of happiness in the human heart.” We share these small, powerful truths as a community and as individuals.
Many people have noted that the explosion of gay romance coincided with the e-reader revolution, when folks could choose a title without fear of scrutiny in the checkout line. The anonymity of the internet is another type of potent camouflage. That also means that the readers who finally felt free to choose differently had carried their own secret curiosity that wound up being powerful and prophetic in ways that publishers have only begun to grasp and I wouldn’t try to calculate.
Obviously, this topic extends beyond a blog post, but today, while I was working on this romantic suspense book, I started thinking about the way that secrets can unleash poison AND possibility in all of us…and started poking at the shadows. LOL
We live at a time when closet doors are opening, when marriage equality is inevitable and secrets positive and terrible get dragged into the light every day. All claims of transparency aside, human emotion is a puzzle that can never be solved because the chasm between what we think and what we say, between our feelings and our actions, will never shrink.
Maybe one of the reasons we love romance so much is that these books dig around in the dark, fragile corners of our hearts and exposes the treasures we keep buried there.
Bad Idea: Some mistakes are worth making.
Reclusive comic book artist Trip Spector spends his life doodling super-square, straitlaced superheroes, hiding from his fans, and crushing on his unattainable boss until he meets the dork of his dreams. Silas Goolsby is a rowdy FX makeup creator with a loveless love life and a secret streak of geek who yearns for unlikely rescues and a truly creative partnership.
Against their better judgment, they fall victim to chemistry, and what starts as infatuation quickly grows tender and terrifying. With Silas’s help, Trip gambles his heart and his art on a rotten plan: sketching out Scratch, a “very graphic novel” that will either make his name or wreck his career. But even a smash can’t save their world if Trip retreats into his mild-mannered rut, leaving Silas to grapple with betrayal and emotions he can’t escape.
What will it take for this dynamic duo to discover that heroes never play it safe?
Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to romance fiction, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year. Get in touch with him on Twitter, Facebook, or at DamonSuede.com.