The one question I'm asked over and over again is "How did you get into writing gay erotic romance?"
I always try to think of a short answer, because most of the time the questioner doesn't have an hour for me to explain.
So, I thought I'd do it in a blog post. Because it has really been a lifelong process for me and the answer is rather more complex than people might suppose.
As a kid I remember being a little gender dysmorphic. When I developed breasts and went through puberty I had a bittersweet feeling about leaving my androgynous childhood behind. My mom had let me run around with no shirt on up until the age of seven or eight, much to my older sister's embarrassment, just like my brothers. And I really hated that I couldn't do that anymore. I don't remember actually wanting to be a boy because I did like the idea that one day I would be able to give birth to a child and be a mom. But that day seemed very far away and all I could understand at the time was pain, inconvenience and discomfort. My brothers seemed to have it much easier. My older sister had never liked me, so I didn't feel like she was a role model, but my older brother was definitely a role model for me. I remember feeling so very cool and hip when I wore a pair of his hand-me-down flared jeans (it was the seventies after all). I never was into dresses since my mom would make me wear nylons and a slip (ick) which were, you guessed it, pretty uncomfortable.
As I grew up I became more comfortable with my femaleness although I was never a paeon to femininity. I never felt like I had to conform to some strict gender norm. I was just me. When I got my hair cut really short and spiky in Grade ten, like Corey Hart, it was a revelation. I looked amazing and felt wonderful. I felt like I finally stood out in a crowd and people complemented me on my looks all the time. I dressed in what was probably seen as a pretty masculine way back then, but I was just being me. I wore high top basketball sneakers, black t-shirts, my Dad's old wedding jacket (which made a pretty cool blazer) and a brown fedora. My idols were Indiana Jones, Corey Hart, and Han Solo. I wanted to be like them and also be romantic with them. I really didn't overthink this at the time - it was just the way I was.
At about the same time I started writing very explicit descriptions of my sexual fantasies. These usually involved Han Solo or Indiana Jones and a pretty badass female of some sort. There was bondage. There was sexual teasing. There was consummation. I knew alot about sex and I thought alot about sex, even though I was too scared to actually try to have sex with anybody real. I'd never had a boyfriend because the boys I felt attracted to didn't seem to feel the same about me. And I was painfully shy and terrified about the risks associated with physical intimacy. So writing was the way I dealt with my raging hormones and burgeoning sexuality. I would show these stories occasionally to my close friends and the response was always very positive. They thought the stories were incredibly hot and well written. So I would write more. But, although I was proud of my stories and read them over and over again, there was a deep sense of shame associated with this activity. Yes, I was writing and writing well, but I shouldn't be writing these kinds of stories.
I wrote a one-act play in grade ten that I submitted to the NAC's Young Scriptwriters Competition, and it won an Honourable Mention. My English teacher, who had encouraged me to enter the contest, was thrilled, as were my parents and siblings. But all I could see was that I hadn't placed first, second or third, and the honourable mention seemed more like an insult than anything else.
But I kept writing. I wrote a short story called Blue Skies in Grade eleven that got a top mark and much praise from a different English teacher, and I believe she had me read it to the class. It was about two young guys, one of whom is being physically abused by his father, the other who is his best friend and tries to save him. It was written in the style of S.E. Hinton whose books I was reading at the time. Looking at it now, I see that, just like Hinton's stories, there is a homo-erotic undertone to the relationship.
I remember watching movies where there might be a brief scene involving gay men, and being totally entranced by it when everyone else I was with made a disapproving comment or a noise of disgust. I remember thinking "What do they see that is wrong with this? I think it's wonderful."
In University I switched the focus of my BA from English Literature to Psychology. I wrote an essay on Male Homosexual Identity for one class and on the concept of Androgyny for another. Both received excellent marks. I continued to write secret erotic stories for my own enjoyment on the side - all featuring straight characters with BDSM elements. I've always been fascinated by power dynamics in sexuality.
I remember loving my class on Human Sexuality and getting excellent marks. I wish I'd taken a cue from that and thought about become a sexuality educator. It would have been a fascinating and rewarding career. But my parents did not view human sexuality as a reputable field of study and I was already the under-performer in the family. Plus I was so tired of school by the time I finished University I just wanted a decent job to pay the bills so I could move out and begin my life.
Unfortunately, I was laid off from that decent job after a couple of years and, faced with a long period of unemployment during the recession of the nineties, applied for OSAP to attend a Scriptwriting Certificate Program at Algonquin College. There I met a great group of fellow writers with whom I've stayed in contact over the years, and a man who introduced me to the complexities of physical love and sexual obsession, but not love.
As part of that program, we were tasked to come up with an idea for a feature film script and pitch it to the teacher in front of the class. I came up with a movie about a happily-partnered gay couple who move into an isolated house in Chelsea Quebec. The younger partner meets a compelling man named Valentine who lives nearby with whom he develops a friendship that threatens to become something more. It soon becomes apparent that Valentine is a threatening character and the film develops into a thriller of sorts. It was titled Critical Persuasions, and my idea was one of five chosen to be pitched to an executive at the CBC during a class trip to Toronto. Although not designed to be sexually explicit, the scenes that I did end up writing were very erotically charged. I finished the script but it never measured up to what I hoped it would be. I wrote another full-length movie script later on, with elements of Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, called The Adventures of Pandora Galacia. The main character was a female version of Han Solo, and she had a gay sidekick who competed with her for all the hot men they encountered in their space travels. Although I'm very proud of that script and especially the story concept and characters, I realized that I didn't come easily or naturally to the very structured requirements of that type of writing.
Cue romance and love in real time. I got engaged, then married, then had my first child, all in the space of a few years. Writing was put on the back burner for a rather long time. It wasn't until I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2009, when my second child was 18 months old, that I felt the urge to possibly start writing again. In fact, it was during the lengthy recovery from a significant MS relapse that I discovered that reading free fan-fiction was a great way to relax and destress. We were broke, since my husband was the only income-earner and we now had two kids, so paying for books was out of the question.
I remember there was a category of fan-fiction labelled "Slash" which I avoided because I though that meant it was blood and guts horror writing, in which I had absolutely no interest. When I found out it was actually gay erotica, well, the rest is history. I gobbled it up with a great deal of pleasure, amazed that I wasn't the only woman in the world who enjoyed the idea of two men being physically intimate and falling in love.
It was a revelation, and I remember thinking that someone should tap into this market.
When I was researching publishers for a het erotic short story I'd written, essentially to prove to my husband and his friend that I could write great sex, I came upon the website for MLR Press, a publisher of exclusively MM romance. They were very clear about the kinds of stories their readers wanted, and I knew I could write one. So I did.
I wrote my first ebook, Exposure, for MLR Press, even though their website said they weren't accepting manuscripts at that time. They suggested that, if you thought you could write the kinds of stories they wanted and believed your writing was good enough, you send a two-page excerpt for them to have a look at. It felt like a long shot, but I was encouraged by the fact that I'd written erotic stories for years at a young age. I knew I could do it and do it well. And I knew I had the interest and ability to write a great piece of gay erotic romance.
I remember having a panic attack the day after I sent the email and attachment to MLR Press - a remnant of the old feelings of shame and guilt from my childhood. I'd just sent a very explicit excerpt out into cyberspace to a publisher that looked good on the internet but about which I really knew nothing. What the hell was I thinking? I comforted myself with the thought that it wasn't going to get a response anyway, so I might as well not worry about it. I put it from my mind.
Two weeks later, after a great dinner party with friends, I checked my email only to see a response from Kris Jacen at MLR Press. I still remember the wording of the email. It went something like this:
Thank you for your excerpt. After looking it over, it does seem to be something that our readers would enjoy. We request that you send a copy of the completed manuscript to this address.
I barely had time to go over the manuscript, which I'd just finished, for spelling and grammar before sending it in. It sat in their submissions department for a couple of months and then I received an acceptance email with an attached contract.
I was suddenly an author. An author of gay erotic romance, but an author nonetheless, and so very proud of this accomplishment.
After almost ten years of not writing at all, I suddenly had multiple stories to tell. And since I now gave myself permission to write the graphic sex scenes I'd always enjoyed reading, there was no stopping me. There was also an element of giving the public a positive depiction of gay sexuality and gay love, something which I felt very strongly about from a young age.
It's been a challenging and fascinating ride. With three published novels and three novellas behind me, plus two free short stories of which I'm very proud, I've evolved in terms of my writing style and subject matter. While I began with some lighter kink in the two early novellas, my James Lucas Trilogy delved much more deeply into the world of bondage and submission, much to my enjoyment and that of my readers as well. As a way of researching these books, I became involved in Ottawa's gay kink community, meeting a host of fascinating people and engaging in deep discussions about the psychology of BDSM and learning what practitioners get out of it. If my current day-job didn't always involve Sunday shifts, I'd still be attending the monthly MLO brunches.
I've noticed too, that I've been able to fully embrace my femininity over the past six years, in ways that I was never able to do before. It's almost as if, now that I have an outlet for the masculine part of me - I'm able to write from the viewpoint of a young gay man - I feel safe exploring my feminine side. I've never felt more like a woman than I do after writing gay erotica for six years.
Who would have thought?