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 3 of 3
What, besides the bodies themselves, is different about writing M/M romance, as opposed to M/F or even F/F romance?
My entry point to M/M romance first stemmed from my interest in slash fiction and I enjoy M/M for similar reasons. I love romance for the vulnerability it brings out in the characters, and M/M is a chance to explore those things in a power dynamic where both parties are more or less on equal footing.
In the US, there are so many cultural messages about men needing to be tough and closed off. I get a kick out of subverting those notions, writing male characters who feel things deeply, and putting them into stories where the expression of those feelings is rewarded and valued. While the idea of traditional masculinity has the power to do a lot of harm, it’s also quite fragile and so many opportunities open up—both in reality and fiction—when it breaks apart.
It’s funny, part of me wants to wade into the women-feel-things-differently-than-men debate, but as a gay man I’m not sure I really have standing. And I have not written much M/F romance (or any F/F romance). For me, the most interesting technical change in my writing as I have approached romance (or erotica) has been to nudge me from third person to first person narrative.
I find it somewhat difficult to write m/m sex scenes because you have to use pronouns judiciously. He lifted his leg and threw it over his shoulder is all well and good, but when you’re wading through paragraph after paragraph of he/his prose, you can get lost. The natural solution is to call your characters by their names (repeatedly), but since I rarely write that way at any other times, the sex scenes can become stilted. Jason lifted Daniel’s leg and threw it over Jason’s shoulder. So over time I have drifted to first person narrative to solve this problem. I lifted his leg and threw it over my shoulder.
That’s hard for me to answer as I don’t tend to write that much M/F or F/F romance —I do write M/F and F/M but it tends be more erotica than romance (not even the erotic romance hybrid). The thing I find to be careful about, and this is kind of related to the question about how to write men emotionally, is how men express themselves. I try to veer on the side of constraint—no direct declarations of feelings (intention perhaps, but not feelings) until much later in the relationship. I also try and consider that sex may not have the same emotional resonance with the characters early on either —my usual approach is that the first time is a bit of fun, a way of them getting to know each other, with the depth and connection coming later. Which frankly is the way sex probably works for most people in real life, but my sense is that when writing M/M, if it’s going to lead to romance, to not overstate the emotional connection too soon.
The answer to this is related to the question about balancing the romance tropes of soft and hard. When you have two people of the same gender in a relationship, there has to be a way to differentiate between them. They may be both typical masculine figures, so you have to find the unobvious difference that would be easily seen in a male/female dynamic. The reader has to be able to relate and identify with the characters, which means both men can’t be emotionally stunted or shut-off or unwilling to talk about problems and emotions. The difference in writing a m/m story vs. a m/f or f/f story is not falling into the traps of putting one in the “female” role. You have to stop thinking about labeling traits as masculine or feminine. It’s easy to dump gendered traits on people, but it’s much harder to avoid that trap and make the characters well-rounded with motivations that explain why one is more emotionally open than another. You can’t just fall back on gender expectations and leave it at that.
I only write M/M romance as that is the only type of relationship I have had experience with (write what you know). I do know, however, there is a big difference in sex between two men as opposed to between a man and a woman. The emotions can be the same but the displaying of them can be quite different. Sometimes a man can be distant and center themselves on the physical sensations, forgetting who is giving him these exciting quivers.
Well, M/M is the only one I haven’t personally experienced in real life! Kidding aside, I like writing M/M because it requires me to consider cultural attitudes and issues surrounding masculinity that I might not always be thinking about. As a feminist, writing M/M allows me to inhabit the world through the eyes of men who have to struggle with their masculinity in ways that straight men don’t. I appreciate the chance to view the world from the perspectives of my characters.
Sex in M/M romances comes easily and quickly because men, unlike women, are allowed to satisfy their hormonal desires. They’re even encouraged to do so. This actually makes it difficult to write about two men waiting to have sex—a common theme in even contemporary M/F romances.
Men are also raised to think a lot about pecking order. In M/F romance, tension is often about whether there is more to the relationship than just sexual attraction. But in M/M romance, the tension can revolve around who is “on top” and who is on the “bottom” (literally or figuratively) and whether the former can respect the latter.
To put it in Designated Driver terms: are driver and passenger going to the same destination?
Finally, in western culture, men aren’t taught to prize romance. It’s one of those M/F clichés that the man will forget an anniversary or give his lady something dull and pragmatic for Valentine’s Day.
Obviously, not all men lack romantic inclinations. But there is enough truth to the trope that characters in M/M romances can be taken aback by the strength of their feelings, by their unexpected desire to demonstrate their love. It’s one of the joys of writing M/M fiction. There’s usually a point where the writer gets to shout at the couple: “Surprise!”
There are a lot of expectations put on men that are not put on women. Men are faced with the need to disguise physical signs of arousal. They’re supposed to repress evidence of vulnerability and emotion in ways women are not. Guys aren’t supposed to cry much, or show just how scared they really are, or be open about being drawn to things beyond the narrow range of what’s considered “manly.” It starts from childhood and is very much a part of contemporary society. Some things are okay. Some are definitely not. There’s also a culture of silence that fascinates me. Men aren’t free to confide in each other the way women can about what’s really important to them. They don’t open up about their feelings to each other as much as they should.
That repressive environment is what inspires me to challenge norms and allow readers a glimpse into what it means to be a flawed guy in a world that wants him to pretend he’s got it all figured out. I love the delicacy of men. The distinctive beauty. The moments when they break. The pressure needed to form the first cracks or deliver the final, killing blow. The layers of protection that need to be established before secrets can be unearthed. The courage in owning obvious differences.
Men are known for having it easier than women, for the most part. The system has been established to work for their benefit. But their favored status can be really deceiving, especially when being gay or bisexual is such a layered hardship in our particular political and religious landscape.
For me, there’s a fascinating contrast between the way men might express their casual lust or true love for other men if there were no social shackles involved, and what happens in the real world. No matter the progress we might have made so far, it is still less acceptable in all but the most progressive circles for men to be with men, than it is for men to be with women, or women to be with women. And that’s not okay.
To find Parts 1 & 2 of the Bring the Love Authors Interview, see the Bring the Love Blog Tour page!