Sunday, January 6, 2013

Read? Good.

So, if my books are so good, why aren't they more popular? Is it because I'm not popular? Am I the Grumpy Cat of gay publishing?

I've been wondering that recently for several reasons. The first is that I've had several friends and colleagues ask to meet up for a meal or coffee, or via phone calls and emails, to "pick my brain" about publishing. While I can imagine nothing more painful-sounding than having my brain picked, I do offer my advice, but no brain chunks.

But I'm not sure if my advice is worthy. I plow through the chores of doing it all myself, and take some small comfort when colleagues who have the advantage of prestigious publishers and agents regale me with their woes (mostly to do with a lack of control over their work), the position of being a "success" still befuddles me somewhat.

Yes, Every Time I Think of You won the Lambda Literary Award last year in the Romance category, and I'm still honored and happy about that. The decision to categorize that book as a romance seemed right. The story was primarily about two young gay men's budding affair, conflicts, and eventual success in staying together.

The decision to write a sequel came from knowing their story wasn't finished. This is not something I've done before, or will do again, probably.

Even though "the novel is dead," as the phrase goes, I still believe a story should be done by the last page. There's a reason why old-time books and movies included The End.

After the rush of the Lammy calmed, and I got underway with the sequel, I decided to spend some time checking out other books in the M/M (Male-Male Romance) genre. As my other posts mention, I've been a bit dismissive of the genre, mostly because of the preponderance of cheesy stock image beefcake covers. They all look the same. Then I read a few, and yep; they mostly read the same.

Generic M/M Romance #346
1. Happenstance meeting of two supermodel-worthy hunks. 2. One's working class or closeted, the other out and sassy or "educated" (and either the narrator or the main third-person point-of-view. 3. Mild conflict via jobs, schedules, interfering secondary character, child(ren), etc. 4. separation, pining, regret, followed by the inevitable romantic gesture, confession, public declaration of love. 5. Insert near-pornographic sex scenes. 6. Happy Ending, but not the end, because a sequel's already being promoted on the book's back page.

It's a genre ripe with clichés, and most of the romance books I read fulfill those requirements.

What astounds me is how popular these books are. Some authors, who seem to crank out a new variation on the same story every year, have rabid devoted fandoms.

Am I jealous? You bet! These authors seem to have a lot of free time to join online chats, attend conferences, do signings and more. They have supportive partners, and a free-flowing capacity to repeat the same stories and gain even more fans.

When I joined the book fan/author site GoodReads, I discovered that Every Time had been added to several relevant categories, including books that have characters with disabilities. While I wasn't naive enough to think I was alone in this subgenre, what's fascinating is how darn popular some of these books are.

For example, Z.A. Maxfield's St. Nacho's got nearly 2,000 ratings and more than 150 reviews. It proves that you can't read a book by its (trite stock image stereotypical generic headless shirtless beefcake) cover.

The book's enjoyable. It ain't Proust, but it's fine. A lot of other better-selling romance books seem interesting.

I wish I had time to read more of these books, but I'm too busy working, living a life, and researching the next book.

Distracted by the myriad variations on the themes in my books take over as well. For example, the main themes in Every Time I Think of You are disability and nature, specifically trees.

Reid, the two books' main character and narrator, loves trees. He's worked in a state park in Pennsylvania. In the upcoming sequel, he studies Forestry and takes an urban focus on horticulture and parks management. How his career and life change are a major part of the story.

He also loves Everett, and who wouldn't? Everett's paraplegia becomes a major factor in their lives, and in the early 1980s setting in Philadelphia, a number of factors, including events that actually occurred, shape the story.

So instead of reading more romances, I'm reading books on botany, disability activism, Philadelphia, and other related subjects. Sorry, but it's much more inspiring than a tale of a hunky ranch hand who falls for a gogo-dancing shape-shifter.

I'm enjoying the work necessary to shape a novel Рyes, an old-fashioned, structurally sound, non-clich̩ work of literature Рwhich probably won't gain the massive readership of the more popular and simplistic works in this genre.

So, while I learn to get over my envy, I should also learn to enjoy being the author of an award-winning book that's also the "Most Underrated."

Like Grumpy Cat, I'm not really grumpy. I just look that way.

UPDATE: My "grumpy" mood was completely derailed by this glowing review from fellow author Madison Parker on the True Colorz blog. Check it out HERE. And enjoy their many other LGBT Young Adult book features, reviews and author profiles.



  1. I have often wondered the same thing about my work, Jim. I tried very hard not to make them formulaic. Each took five years, during which time some of the "popular" boys published three, for, or five titles. It was and is frustrating. I am only now, five years post-FPP, even beginning to THINK about returning to writing again. Not that it will make a difference to anyone one way or the other...

    I guess we ultimately write because we love it and want the story to be born. But it sure would be nice to achieve some modicum of success.

    Hopefully we can get together for lunch or something in the new year.

  2. I also just looked at the literary oeuvre of Z. A. Maxfield and, I'm sorry, I don't understand how someone can publish multiple books in a year and still have them be readable. I don't think I could TYPE as fast as she WRITES.