Today I am so pleased to welcome Christopher Rice to Joyfully Jay. Christopher has come to share some thoughts on m/m romance and his books, Light Before Day, A Density of Souls, and The Snow Garden. Please join me in giving him a big welcome!
I knew they existed. I had heard tell of them as if they were some exotic, rare animal species, infrequently spotted on the fringes of the Amazon jungle. They were women. They were straight. And they wrote romance novels where the lovers were – gulp, sigh, squee – two guys! But I told myself, “Surely, they’re not writing anything I’d be interested in. I’m sure it’s all too sweet. Too flowery. Too girly.” So basically this blog post is a confession.
Hi, I’m Christopher, and I’m a sexist bigot with one hell of a competitive streak.
I mean, who did these women think they were? Writing about myyyyyy life? (Don’t feel like you have to point out how narcissistic that statement is. Believe me. I’ve got close friends who patrol my self-obsession on a daily basis and they’ll do that job for you as soon as this posts.) Well, for starters, they weren’t writing about my life. The days of gay men looking, acting and living like a single unit are on the wane. As acceptance of homosexuality broadens, an increasingly diverse group of gay men have come out of hiding, calling into question the glib stereotypes society has applied to homosexuals for generations. Progress has thrown open the closet doors for many gay men who in previous decades might have felt compelled to stay hidden. Maybe they worked in professions once hostile to anyone who wasn’t straight and white, like law enforcement or the military, or maybe they didn’t have a passion for pursuits considered to be stereotypically gay, like theatre or interior design, so they decided it was easier to fly below the radar. Nowhere is this new diversity of gayness more reflected than in M/M romance, where the delicious cover models wear the costumes of firemen, Marines, royalty and wealthy CEO’s.
Also, since when are you only allowed to write about a group of which you are a member? Is there a writer truly believes this bunk? Better question: is there a writer who truly practices this bunk? How would any fiction get written? Would we have to limit Stephen King to only writing from the point of view of straight white male characters? (See you later, Wendy Torrance. After a while, Dolores Claiborne.) One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve read came from a screenwriting professor named Richard Krevolin. “Never let anyone tell you that you can only write what you know,” he wrote, “you can write anything you can feel.” Testify!
So back to the point here. Which is my bigotry, narcissism and resistance to new ideas. (I guess that’s points, plural.) Or more specifically, my refusal to read any M/M romance novels for about fifteen years after I first heard tell of them. I’m not exactly sure what happened. I’m not exactly sure why one night, I got up from the sofa, went to my computer and said, “I’ve got to download at least one or two of these books and see what’s happening here.” I can say, to my embarrassment, that a few years before, I was Board President of the Lambda Literary Foundation and partially responsible for a shortsighted and ultimately embarrassing decision to only give out awards to openly LGBT writers. At the time, I was woefully ignorant about M/M romance, and without telling tales out of school, the genre became collateral damage after the sexuality of a winner in a different category churned up the issue. But that’s all water under the bridge…I hope. (I left the organization soon after for a different reason.) But that experience was the only brush with this genre I’d had before going to computer that fateful night.
And then, with some one-click ordering, everything changed.
We have Amazon’s crafty algorithms and some enticing cover art to thank for the fact that the first two M/M romance novels I downloaded were DRIFTWOOD by Harper Fox and SPECIAL DELIVERY by Heidi Cullinan. I devoured them both. DRIFTWOOD made me sigh and swoon. SPECIAL DELIVERY made my boyparts catch fire, but in a really healthy way. In fact, I loved them both so much, I read them together. Alternating a chapter in one with a chapter in the other, until I was sweaty puddle on the floor, barely able to hold my Kindle with both hands. (Shame on you and your filthy mind. Sometimes I was clutching my breast, alright? Except when I read HOT HEAD by Damon Suede. Sometimes I just had to put the Kindle on a flat surface and ..you know, read really vigorously.)
To my utter astonishment and arousal and sudden humility, I realized, “Holy crap. I’ve found my people.” And then I proceeded to publish an MMF called THE FLAME that’s been really well received, but it’s ticked off a few readers who thought I was going to write an MM. But ménage is a different animal, which means it should be the subject of a different blog post. I’m just saying this because maybe my people might not feel like I’ve found them, but I have. I swear. Really. And as is so often the case in my life, my people are mostly straight women.
This week, Thomas & Mercer is releasing my first three novels in digital for the first time. They were written long before publishers like Riptide and Dreamspinner existed. They were written when the only mainstream awareness of M/M writers came via a lot of shallow jokes about women who liked to scour the far corners of the Internet for stories about Spock and Kirk doing the nasty. When they were first published, they were given coy, “literary” covers with tree branches and shafts of sunlight. They were packaged in such a way as to keep secret the fact that gay characters were heroes and that these heroes confronted their deepest demons and won (and got laid a lot too). They were written during a time when a gay novel was understood to be either a cathartic AIDS chronicle or a ceaseless bathhouse fantasia in which the author rolled all of his anonymous hook-ups into a beautifully written paean to his loneliness and sexual desirability. In fact, I submit to you the reasons so many self-appointed gay literary critics have an issue with women writing gay romance is because the early gay novels they adore aren’t actually fiction; they’re thinly disguised memoirs written about a very specific time and place in which those critics lived. Or they just have a problem with romance in general which makes the whole conversation a non-starter. Don’t get me wrong. They are scores of great gay non-romance novels out there. But by the age of twenty-one, they were all starting to feel like the same grim exercise. I was sick of reading them, and I didn’t want to write anything that was like them.
I wanted love and sex. I wanted to inject characters like me into genres where they’d been historically excluded. I wanted there to be action and high-stakes and passionate love and mystery and murder and mayhem, but with gay heroes! And that’s what A DENSITY OF SOULS, THE SNOW GARDEN and LIGHT BEFORE DAY offer to varying degrees. The first is a suspense-driven coming of age story, the second a twisty murder mystery set on a college campus, and the third is my best attempt to tell a noir detective story set in gay Los Angeles, with a too-smart-for-his-own-good gay hero. Ultimately, it’s up to fans of the genre to decide whether or not my first three books can be considered M/M, but if it’s a label they choose to apply to them, I will be nothing but honored to be assigned a classification that also includes books as good as WHEN ALL THE WORLD SLEEPS by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock or SCORPION by Aleksandr Voinov.
On the surface, most M/M writers seemed pretty different from a guy like me. (There are more men working in the genre now then there were when I first started reading it. Watch your back, Damon Suede!) But for some reason, they were committed to imagining happier endings for guys like me than we were willing to imagine for ourselves. It’s rare to find that kind of connection in the literary world, with its false factions and petty rivalries. It’s rare to find it. Period. But I have, and it makes me feel blessed.
Adam Murphy wants to be a serious journalist. Unfortunately, he spends his days writing copy about underwear and abs for a gay lifestyle magazine. When a troubled young porn star brings him a tip about a recently deceased marine’s secret visit to an infamous pimp for underage boys, Adam is determined to break the story…until someone starts threatening his life.
Undeterred, Adam begins to unravel a deadly conspiracy involving runaway sugar daddies, salacious A-list parties, and three handsome young men who have vanished without a trace. Now he must enter the seedy underbelly of LA to find the truth behind their disappearance, as well as the disappearance of his ex-lover, Corey—who may have some deadly secrets of his own.
In this supercharged modern noir tale of sex, drugs, and revenge from New York Times bestselling author Christopher Rice, getting to the bottom of a scandalous story can be dangerous…if not downright fatal.
Christopher Rice published his bestselling debut novel, A Density of Souls, when he was twenty-two. By thirty, Rice had published four New York Times bestsellers, received a Lambda Literary Award, and been declared one of People magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive.” His noir thriller Light Before Day was hailed as a “book of the year” by mega-bestselling author Lee Child. His most recent book, The Heavens Rise, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.
The son of legendary author Anne Rice, he has published short fiction in the anthologies Thriller and Los Angeles Noir. His writing has been featured in the Advocate, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and on Salon.com. With his friend and cohost Eric Shaw Quinn, Rice recently launched his own internet radio broadcast, The Dinner Party Show (TheDinnerPartyShow.com). He also recently served on the board of directors of the West Hollywood Library Fund, which helped to secure funds for a new state-of-the-art library in the heart of the city he now calls home.