Bring the Love is the exciting new m/m anthology with eleven stories from nine authors! The stories feature men who reclaim lost love, men who find themselves in the love of another man, and men who defy oppression for the sake of love.
This is one part of a three part interview with most of the authors whose work is included in Bring the Love anthology. Visit the Bring the Love Blog Tour page during the last week of June 25-30 for links to the other two parts of the interview, behind the scenes pieces on the stories, and giveaways of print and ebook versions of the book!
Bring the Love Authors Interview – Part 1 of 3
Many romance tropes call for men to be strong, dominant, even (emotionally) hard. Yet romance also calls for vulnerability and tenderness. How do you balance these in your story?
That tension is one of the reasons I love writing romance so much and is truly the core of the characters’ journeys in Slow Surrender. Both of the main characters in my story are emotionally hardened in their own ways. As a drag queen, Lucas is an expressive performer, but his drag persona also functions as a mask for his true emotions and allows him to keep others from getting too close.
Being newly out of the closet, Connor is still struggling against the strictures of traditional masculinity. He looks like a tough guy, but deep down he’s very insecure and part of him is ashamed of his desire to be dominated at all, let alone by someone as flamboyant as Lucas. As their relationship grows, they both have to decide if embracing vulnerability is worth the risk.
In general, I’m not a guy who’s good at all the “mushy stuff”. Addicted to romantic comedies and romance novels as I am, I tend to write harder, less emotional work myself. My characters tend to be cynical or guarded in their approach to the world and one of the primary themes of the story centers around being able to find connection in a world in which everyone has to be on their guard.
Jason and David live in a world in which they cannot be themselves; they hide everything. So finding each other is revelatory in a way; a reminder of how life used to be, maybe a kindling of hope for the future. And yet these are two individuals who are clearly driven by sexual impulses. There’s something truly heroic (and maybe transcendent) about risking your life for the idea that you can connect through sex in a world in which the wrong kind of sex carries the death penalty.
For me, I make distinctions between how characters behave in public and private. Tom especially comes across as strong and dominant outside of the relationship, and while he’s the more dominant one between him and Jimmy, in the relationship itself Tom is sweet and tender. He masks a lot of it with gentle teasing, calling Jimmy ‘babe’ when they’re alone.
Jimmy, for his part, I made very conscious of Tom’s emotional hardness— Jimmy tries so hard to be cool about things but a few drinks and he blubbers about how much he loves Tom. He’s a little embarrassed by this because of Tom’s cool demeanour, but Tom likes that about Jimmy. He likes his innocence. And indeed, that becomes part of the conflict later in the story.
The problem with this trope specifically is that it stems from stereotypes of masculinity and the gender dynamics in a relationship. I try to get the balance by ignoring stereotypes and writing my characters as fully-rounded people who have emotions and are strong, dominant but also soft and understanding. There is no rule that says people can’t be both. When a character becomes too rigid, it’s almost impossible to relate, to get through to them, for them to make any kind of connection. I try to make my characters all about growth. Even if they start out a stereotype, they can’t end that way if they want to change and evolve.
Love is that little flutter in your belly. It puts a smile on your face, especially when that love is returned. It is the same for everyone, men just have a tendency to hide that smile. The feelings are still there but we don’t show them that easily.
Men are taught from an early age to mask our emotions. We can still be tender and romantic but in ways that are often different than the traditional. I personally don’t really enjoy candle-lit dinners or walks on the beach, but I do love to spend time with a man. Having a beer together or taking a long drive means more to me than hand holding.
In choosing to have Daniel become blind as an adult, through macular degeneration, I had a lot of room to play with both strength and vulnerability. It helps that I don’t believe that those two traits are mutually exclusive. Through the process of losing his sight, Daniel in many ways became vulnerable, but as the story shows, he’s nonetheless able to cope with the changes in his life, even if those changes take time to process. That, to me, is strength. And Andy, his partner, experiences his own sort of vulnerability as he also adapts to their new life. In their union, they find their strength.
Sex. Sex. Sex. Really. I often use sex to slip under a character’s armor and reveal his gentler side. Like his boyish yearning for another man’s touch, or how the fragrance of another man’s sweat leaves him dizzy. With a lovingly detailed blowjob, I can show the receiving, dominant man feeling affection as he gazes down at his lover’s head. Being naked, after all, is being vulnerable, and in sharing pleasure, we often share emotions.
I’m a fan of writing about survivors. Men who have endured nightmares, whose vulnerabilities are profound and undeniable. But at the same time, they have allowed their strength to shine through when they’re put to the test. There is this balance and beauty in wounded souls. People who should be broken beyond repair, but endure nonetheless. Loners who have gone deep into the dark, have seen the worst of the horrors there, and want only to find a kindred spirit along the way to help them keep to their feet as they trudge ahead, searching for the light to lead them out.
I like characters who either wear their brokenness on the outside, and have surprising strength hidden within, or the opposite—warriors with a weakness that goes all the way in to the core of who they are.
For strength to be appealing to me, it needs to be grounded in experience, trial, and a messy, heart-breaking past. It should be borne from a youth filled with too much cruelty or tragedy, which has shaped the hero into a wiser version of themselves. I’m not a fan of arrogance or overconfidence. If a man is dominant, it shouldn’t be because he delights in the misfortunes and pain of those he deems weaker than him, but because he’s trying to create a safe space for a submissive man to be who they are, freely.
At the same time, there must always be strength of some sort. Helpless, weak-willed cowards who balk at every challenge don’t make the best heroes and don’t have much of a story to tell.
To find Parts 2 & 3 of the Bring the Love Authors Interview, see the Bring the Love Blog Tour page!