I was recently asked about the preponderance of mm romance in my fiction reading. I thought I’d covered this before but apparently not. Maybe on one of my locked social media blogs way back a decade ago! It seemed a good idea to revisit the subject, anyway.
I enjoy romantic fiction, but although I love e.g. Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope, I have found that modern romance with the conventional hero and heroine tends towards tired tropes and stock characters. This is not to say I don’t read and enjoy it. A recent ‘find’ was The Cracked Slipper, and one of my all time favourites is A Suitable Boy. However, I have been looking for different approaches and am certainly interested in extending the concept of romance to the entire human race instead of just part of it.
Romance that features a same gender couple often fills this demand but I have tried lesbian (or ff) fiction and with a few exceptions this often seems to me to follow the path of the more conventional (het) stories.
Where both protagonists are male, (mm romance) there is a definite difference. There is, to begin with, a new power dynamic to explore, where there is the tension of not knowing how the couple will or can adjust to each other’s needs, especially given the social context within which they are operating. There is, if the story is set in the past, the added frisson of the dangers encountered by people who dared to love in an age where their preferences were illegal or taboo. There is, if the story is set in the future, the possibility of exploring different cultural and social attitudes towards what we currently think of as minorities. Finally, present day stories simply expand our horizons in terms of romance.
A further tension in mm romance is the knowledge that if the protagonists fail to meet each other’s needs, there isn’t necessarily someone else just waiting for them. There are fewer LGBTQ people around and in any particular locality they could be quite scarce, or not compatible. So in a sense, there’s more reason to hope desperately that the romance will succeed, sometimes against huge odds.
Of course, there is a lot of mm romance that, like its ff or mf counterparts simply doesn’t live up to its potential, but that’s true of every genre. In reading mm novels I seem to stand a better chance of finding something new and interesting to think about.
Having said that, I really do prefer novels in any of these gender combinations to have what I think of as ‘added value’. That means, for me, that they need to have an extra dimension so that I prefer them to be books about history, about crime (and police work), about fantasy, about science fiction, etc. with romance in the mix but not necessarily taking centre stage. This accords with all my fiction reading. I read a great deal of non-fiction (yes, a very great deal both in book and magazine form) and then turn to fiction to relax, and to be honest, the content of the average modern lit!fic novel is simply not either engaging or relaxing for me.
I also get easily bored by explicit sexual depiction, regardless of the participants, unless it furthers the plot or character development. There is, for me, too much sex-for-the-sake-of-it in a lot of modern ‘romance’ writing and whilst I have no desire for the ‘normal’ approach (to revert to ‘fade-to-black’) of the past, I find I just skim sex scenes in most cases. I’m aware, as a writer, that the authors have spent time trying to create something exciting, but for me as a reader it doesn’t often work. I prefer the UST (unresolved sexual tension) of a growing relationship, or the space to exercise my imagination, and an emphasis on feelings rather than physical detail.
To find books that meet my criteria I somehow find myself reading a lot, though as you will know from my reviews, I abandon some quite quickly. I have been following a few ‘trusted’ authors whose mm stories are intelligent and gripping. You can get a feel for whose work I mean from my reviews. I read almost anything by Charlie Cochrane, RJ Scott, Rhys Ford, Keira Andrews, Alexa Milne, Alex Beecroft, Jordan Castillo Price, JL Merrow and one or two others. Some good writers (e.g. Clare London) tend to deal mainly in short stories and novellas, which are less to my taste than long novels in which I can lose myself.
I could add a list of writers of conventional (mf or sometimes known as het) romance or of books that have no particular romance focus. One problem I encounter there is that my favourites tend to write very long books and only publish at random intervals. In between, I am in need of entertainment and I certainly find it in mm romance!
I probably haven’t covered even half my reasons for reading in this genre, but if you have any questions, that’s what the comment box is for!