March 27th, 2019, I posted the following to Dani Elle Maas’s lovely blog, Love Bytes. After a week, I thought I would re-post it right here. However, I highly recommend her blog, and you can find it by clicking RIGHT HERE!
Until then…here it is!
Bits and Pieces. Dribbles and Drabbles. Of Health—And Husbands—And a HUGE Need for Advice!
Hello Readers! I’m back. And apologies to all, especially Dani for my absence.
Life in the last six months has been…interesting to say the least. Good, bad, and … life. So, I thought I’d share a bit of it…and then I need to ask you for some advice.
In December I had a heart attack. Luckily my husbands got me to the hospital and stents were placed in my heart and the good news is that there was no real damage and I will probably never need open heart surgery. It is something I’ve expected to need since 1998, when I had my first heart attack at thirty-eight. But the myocardial infarction was caused by the stent I was given in ’98 becoming dislodged. Stents have come a long way in twenty years. I really only have the best in store for me now! All blockages taken care of. But despite a month of not having to go to work, and lots of rest, it just didn’t lend itself to writing.
Have I mentioned I have two husbands now? We’re about to celebrate a year since exchanging rings. It’s been a journey. Interestingly, even though I was prepared for polyamory, there was a lot of unexpected “stuff” to deal with. But in many ways it has been far easier than I ever imagined. It’s also been, in many ways, far more than I could have hoped for. But there have been things to navigate. Things to work through. Things to learn. Luckily, for the most part, it has been nothing but rewarding. I truly expect this could be my Happily Ever After. But it has absorbed a lot of my time. It’s a little hard to write romance when my life has been FULL of working on the romance in my own real life. Thankfully the “work” has been infinitely rewarding.
I lost my Sarah Jane, my soul dog. I still grieve. I expect I always will. She was my heart. My familiar. I tried to use those emotions to write…and it didn’t work. But the desire was there. I simply couldn’t maintain focus.
This past week we got a new dog! A rescue of an older male Australian Silkie Terrier. I took several days vacation to be there for him. He is a very sad, skittish, scared little guy. But in a week, he’s come a long way. I don’t think he knows how to be a dog. He lived in a puppy mill in a kennel for at least five years. Then he was with an older couple and only bonded with the husband. The husband died and the wife didn’t know how to deal with him. So, he was abandoned at the shelter. We’re working with him. It’ll take time. And again, that time hasn’t lent itself well to writing.
I guess that’s a way of saying that I’ve had serious Writer’s Block.
It’s not that I haven’t had at least some time. It’s not that I don’t have ideas. I have tons and tons of them. But the distractions are plenty. Including the fact that I’ve come to a point where I have to make a major decision.
And now…I hope there are people that have read this far…comes the time where I ask for advice.
I am a gay man. I write romance about two (or more) men falling in love and seeking a Happily Ever After. And there are a lot of people out there who want to read that kind of romance.
But I feel I’ve come to a roadblock. One that can be, and I am sure will be, cleared away. What’s the problem? I think it is that most MM readers aren’t really interested in reading about men falling in love with each other. Gay men that is.
See…. Here’s the thing. Gay men are, in fact, men. We’re not women. And despite the fact that so many of us have best friends that are women, and that so many women have best friends that are gay men, the truth is that we are men. And when men get together, it’s different than when men get together with women.
Let me quote from a review of a groundbreaking and important book called, The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop. The reviewer knew the authors, David McWhirter, MD, and Drew Mattison, PhD. You might not like what it has to say….
“Whether gay or straight, men relate to each other first as men. That said, for gay men who are mutually attracted, sexual connections are often immediate and intense. [The authors] identified this initial stage of attraction as [something called] limerence.
“In some cases the initial feeling of intense attraction leads to coupling. From that point onward, it’s a question of clearing milestones as the limerence fades and a true partnership forms, or does not. There is also the issue of sexual openness in the relationship.”
And here drops the other shoe….
[The authors] “posited that virtually all longterm [sic] male couple relationships become sexually open, after varying periods of monogamy. The only issue is the extent to which couples are honest with each other.
“Note to file: There are male couples who insist they are totally monogamous. [knowing some gay men l know, why should l doubt them? I don’t]
“Today when [the writer of the review of the book] see longtime male couples, most of them strike me [as] loving friends who are deeply connected in many aspects of life. As [the authors] would say, sexual fidelity is supplanted by fidelity to the relationship itself. When the relationship works, it becomes a separate entity that both partners nurture and cherish.”
As you can see, this does not bode well for what most people apparently want to read when they read a romance. They want, from the second in the book where there two heroes meet—even if they hate each other at first—to never be sexually interested in anyone but each other. Not so much as a glance at another man’s ass. And even the one or three couples I know who “claim” to be completely and totally monogamous, they still look. Often together. They at least look. And if one or both of the two men write romance, why they have to fantasize to make a romantically and sexually satisfying story. I know, personally, many women who think that merely looking at a magazine with nude photos or looking at Internet porn is cheating. I had a friend cry on my shoulders, weeping, an entire evening because she found a Playboy magazine in her husband’s workshop. I was stunned. “I should be enough! Why does he need to look at other women?”
Truth is, with almost every man I’ve ever known, looking at porn doesn’t mean that their partner, male or female, isn’t “enough.” They just like to look. Sometimes especially if they don’t have actual sex with anyone but their partner. I’ve know many a man who’ve told me it is porn that keeps them from cheating. If that is bullsh*t or not, that’s for you to decide.
A huge problem is in what I’ve found what many readers consider “cheating.”
For instance, in one of my own (and favorite) novels, there are two men NOT looking for love. One doesn’t want it (in his experience everyone he ever loved went away) and the other doesn’t think he needs anyone, let alone a lover. But they begin to see each other more and more. When the second man confesses that he is falling in love, the first man leaves him. Leaves in a panic. Then, while on the road, he has indiscriminate sex with a stranger, he discovers something that shocks him. Promiscuous sex is no longer satisfying or fulfilling or even fun. Now that he has discovered sex with love, he sees nothing else will ever be enough. He returns home and asks his lover take him back—which of course he does.
I was hit by a number or readers who were angry at the character in my novel because of the cheating. And I was like, “How is it cheating? They weren’t a couple anymore!” And I got teased a lot from friends who would cry out the quote from “Friends.” Remember it? “We were on a break?”
And point of fact—they weren’t really a couple anyway! They were two men who, in the words of the reviewer above, were “mutually attracted,” and a “sexual connection [was] immediate and intense.” It was sex. Pure fun sex. They had no intention of falling in love, nor any desire.
This book was ABOUT two gay men.
When I did a post some time back asking readers what they considered cheating in novels, I was told that the minute they meet, it has to be forever. That they read romances to escape. They read romances to live the kind of fantasy life that happens in romance books. They don’t want reality. They don’t want realism when it comes to the romance part of the story. The research should be done, vets better act like vets, lawyers better act like lawyers, ranch workers better act like ranch workers. But they flat out told me that the romance better be fairy tale.
Now here is my problem. Do I continue to write about real gay men, at the risk that my books won’t sell well enough that I can finally quit the chains and manacles of my day job? Or do I write idolized versions of gay men who take one look at each other and for all time—even if they hate each other at first—there is no other man for them…and therefore get the reputation for the kind of books that will sell well enough for me to quit my job and write full time? My novel, The Boy Who Came in From the Cold, is that kind of book. It made me a ton of money. It continues to make me money. It was #1 on Amazon’s LGBT romance list for two weeks! It’s been translated into French, Italian, German and Korean. Korean! Who thinks that their book might one day be translated into Korean?
So, I can write those kind of books—and I do love my novel The Boy Who Came in From the Cold. I can. But I also want to share my experience as a real gay man. I want to write books for people interested in Male/Male Romance, no matter what their sex or sexual identity. I love to write. I live to write. And I want to be able to do that for my living instead of the type of job I do have, which really feels like chains and manacles.
Here is where I hope you can offer me, a poor writer, some advice. Please don’t just say, “Ben! You need to write what is true to you and f*ck the sales!” Because I don’t think I can make it to retirement the way I am right now. I’ve never ever been fit for a classic nine to five job. Any job I’ve had, even working at a book store, quickly came to feel like chains and iron bars that are sucking the life and dreams right out of me.
It’s only when I sit and write and let the characters that spring from my heart free, like Athena from the head of Zeus, that I am at my happiest and most fulfilled. Writing is what I am! I want that to be my living as well as my loving.
So now I ask you? What should I do?
Which one? Readers have such valuable insight! Can I do both?
In the meantime? I’ve got a deadline for Dreamspinner Press I’m aiming for. Hopefully, I’ll do it! It’s time to really start writing again, no matter what the reason.
BG “Ben” Thomas