This week: LGBT in Mainstream RomanceEdited by: Elle - on hiatus
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Romance novels have been changing consistently ever since the very first one was published. Nowadays romance novels don't necessarily end with wedding bells - it is the personal commitment between two people that is important, and a marriage and children may or may not factor into the storyline. So regardless of whether LGBT couples can get married in your country or state, they are still falling in love and finding their happily ever afters. Are we seeing these couples star in mainstream romance novels or are these still hidden in boutique bookstores or the dark reaches of Amazon?
For the record, I use LGBT to cover all ends of the spectrum. I certainly don't mean to exclude anyone. And while this is a controversial subject, these are just my opinions.
I live in a country where men can marry men, and where women can marry women. It is wonderful that they have this opportunity to do what everyone else takes for granted. But the changes in laws haven't brought couples together. Many of these couples have been together for years and years, regardless of whether people approved or not. LGBT couples are not a new phenomenon. And the simple truth is that two men in a relationship are no different to a man and a woman in a relationship. Well, that's not entirely true. No two couples are the same and no two relationships are the same, are they? That's why we read our romance novels - to read one couple's unique path to happily ever after.
Romance novels have been changing as society's attitudes change. You might not approve or agree with those changes, but they're happening nonetheless. One example of this change is that we see less shotgun marriages in our romance novels these days because society does not have the same attitude towards illegitimacy that it once did. And so too our attitudes towards LGBT couples are changing. So I expect to see more LGBT couples featuring in our mainstream romance novels. Makes sense, right? Is it already happening?
Suzanne Brockmann has written more than 50 romance novels, has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, won the Romance Writers of America’s #1 Favorite Book of the Year three years running, etc etc etc. Let's just say she's successful! She has a long-running series called Troubleshooters, featuring alpha males who work in military or paramilitary roles, mostly navy SEALs. This series has more than sixteen books at last count. One of the secondary characters, who features in a number of the books, is Jules Cassidy. Jules is gay, and while he is a secondary character through the beginning of the series, he does eventually have his own happily ever after in the twelfth book. It's not a side-plot, Jules and Robin are the starring couple in All Through The Night, although it is a novella, not a full length novel. So how did Brockmann's devoted audience react to this? A mainstream romance novel, in an existing and sucessful series, featuring a gay couple front and center? Well, in short, they loved it. On Amazon it averages at 4.3 out of 5 stars. On Goodreads it averages at 4.17 out of 5 stars. And the series has continued on, unchecked. Some reviewers do note though that this book is not steamy, unlike the others in the series.
Lori Foster is another highly successful romance author. She has written more than 70 romance novels, and has appeared on the New York Times bestsellers list and won lifetime achievement awards. One of her many successful series was the Edge of Honor series, which continues for all intents and purposes into the Love Undercover series, which morphs into the Ultimate series. You get the picture. These fifteen books follow a set chronological order and as with Suzanne Brockmann's series, secondary characters often get their own starring role in a later novel. One of those characters is Chris Chapey, who features in at least the first five books as a secondary character, then stars in the sixth book where he gets his happily ever after with Matt Houser. Once again it is only a novella, and once again it is not steamy unlike Lori Foster's other novels. It was published six years after All Through The Night, and readers seemed delighted that Chris was going to get his own story, but there seems to be a common complaint that the story was too short and too tepid. Not that the main couple in the story were gay, but that the story was too short and too tepid. Interesting, huh? The book has an average rating of 4.1 out of 5 stars on Amazon and 3.75 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.
Does this mean that readers are ready for more LGBT couples in their mainstream romance novels? I would say yes. And what's more, they're demanding that they be given the same treatment as all the other couples. If an author writes steamy romance novels, then that should be consistent over a whole series, regardless of the orientation of the couple currently being featured. If the author currently writes chaste romance novels, then they too should be consistent. Readers have a certain expectation, especially after reading numerous books in a series.
Does stepping away from the traditional heterosexual couple hurt an author's career? It seems not. At least, not when they're already an established author of romance novels.
I have read a number of romance novels featuring gay couples, but I'm not sure that they can be called mainstream romance novels. I'm not sure what qualifies a book to be called mainstream to be honest, but I was mostly looking for authors whose names I recognised from major publishing companies. I have noticed here on Writing.com though that often an author that writes romance featuring gay men doesn't also write romance featuring straight couples. So perhaps that is a better explanation? I could certainly find plenty of romance novels on both Amazon and Goodreads featuring LGBT couples, although most of these featured gay couples. A quick glance on Goodreads shows more than 100,000 romance novels featuring gay couples, but only 1,403 romance novels featuring lesbian couples. There isn't even a category for romance novels featuring bisexual or transgender couples. But perhaps they are simply shelved under 'romance', as they should be.
I'd love to hear from you. Do you think we will see more LGBT characters in our mainstream romance novels? Do you have any favourite books featuring LGBT couples to recommend to us?
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I must admit, I've never really read anything where a lead character had an impairment.
It's not that I've gone out of my way to avoid the subject, it's just never featured in anything I've read.
I've read books that have minor characters with impairments, but it has sometimes felt as though they were there just to have a token disabled character.
I agree that more characters with disabilities need to be featured in romance literature, and need to have prominent roles. ~ Andy~NaNo'ing
Beauty and the beast, while not a mobility disability it is a great story. Don't forget The little Mermaid and the Ugly duckling. All stories we love yet are about overcomimng a disability. ~ Quick-Quill
Very interesting topic Elle. Great job bringing something out for discussion that many authors don't think of or talk about. Kudos! ~ Brooke - lurking
I believe the reviewer should be able to write to some extent that which they review. Everyone is entitled to there own opinion and can tell the writer what they think and that which they did or did not like but the review should have something to do with the write as it is meant to be understood. ~ monty31802
Madness of Ian Mckenzie was a very interesting read. There are not many novels which focus on physical disabilities, but this one did and made me think about how much I don't know about the people in the world. I loved the Ming vase instance in which his sole focus was that vase. ~ LostGhost: Seeking & Learning
Great NL this week, Elle! Writing characters with disabilities can be a tricky tightrope to maneuver, because you need to make the disability prominent (otherwise people will say it's a gimmick) without making it the character's defining feature (otherwise people will start looking for inaccuracies). Those stories that do manage to do it well, though, are marvelous and there's no question the world needs more minority characters of all kind. There's plenty of room in fiction for characters that aren't strong, athletic, physically attractive, brilliant, racially and religiously and politically neutral individuals. ~ Jeff
I tend to like those characters the best. Whether they are scarred (physically or emotionally) or have a lifelong impairment that somehow separates them from the world around them, the process of healing, or opening up, or simply learning that they are worth loving, is inpiring.
And now I need to go make sure I've ordered The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie because I know I was looking at it on amazon the other day! ~ Mumsy Spins
There's a quote which comes to my mind, though sadly not one laden with literary credentials (Dragon Age: Inquisition, Varric Tethras to Solas): "Dwarves write how they want things to be. Humans write to figure out how things are."
I can understand people being sensitive to how a disability and the character carrying it are portrayed. Certainly an author of any genre should do their homework on the details of anything they haven't experienced first-hand. But I also think that a disabled character shouldn't *have* to be a strong person. If we only ever write about strong characters, we imply a person with impairments isn't allowed to need help. Of course on the other end of the scale we definitely shouldn't end up with only stories where disabled characters are saved by a "whole" person or are cured by love.
I don't think a writer should compromise the story they want to write for the sensibilities of some people who might dislike it. You should write it well and look for ways to make it better, but you should never feel like you're "not allowed" to write something.~ Tileira
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