This month I celebrated the publication of The Understatement of the Year, which is the third full-length novel in the Ivy Years series. Yet unlike the other books, it is a romance between two men.

I’ve been told that this is an incredibly risky maneuver. An author’s series is her brand, right? And here I’ve served up something different.

Except I haven’t. Not completely.

Before the book launched, I began writing to bloggers who had supported the series, offering ARCs. One lovely blogger joyfully accepted, while admitting that she’d never read an M/M (male/male) romance before. “Well,” I told her, nervous for both of us. “I think you’ll get what you came for. Understatement is, first and foremost, an Ivy Years book.” It shares its voice and tone with the other books, and beloved characters reappear in supporting roles.

That blogger has since decided that it’s her favorite Ivy Years. Yet another reader said immediately, “I’ll be skipping this one.”

My first reaction was to be offended on behalf of my characters, and LGBQT people everywhere. But that isn’t exactly fair. Because I write romance novels, and they’re (hopefully) swoony and sexy. To enjoy the resolution, you need to feel empathy with the characters’ attraction, not just the characters. And readers have the right to feel attracted to whomever they wish, right?

That’s what my novel is about in the first place.

As a romance reader, I have my own catnip. I have a weakness for sports heroes, musicians and geeks. (Bonus points if any of those are combined.) But I take a pass on billionaire romance. I'm missing the gene that finds suits to be sexy. In other words, I cheerfully discriminate against dudes in suits in my romance novels, but not in other books, and not in real life. And I don’t feel guilty about it. At all.

While I might be desperately curious to know who’s reading Understatement of the Year, (Ivy Years fans?
NA fans? M/M fans?) I’m going to have to live with the mystery. The book will be read by those who find its premise appealing, and only the reader will know his or her own reason.

(Though, if my Twitter feed is any indication, the fact that it's a hockey book factors in there, somewhere.)

Does that make putting my LGBTQ story in the middle of an M/F series specifically risky? Or is writing your heart and soul onto the page just risky as a default?

Just this morning I read a lovely blogger’s review of the book, which pondered my choice as “possibly not the most commercial of decisions.”

That only made me smile, since writing novels for a living is “possibly not the most commercial of decisions.” Live and learn!

To date, I’ve only received one horribly homophobic email. One woman wrote to explain how I’d “lost a reader” by putting Graham & Rikker’s story in a series that she’d (so far) loved. She didn’t say “I’ll be skipping this one.” She said she wouldn’t ever buy another Ivy Years book. Because I wrote gay characters into my straight series.

Deep breaths, right? In. Out. In. Out.

DELETE. (And resist the urge to reply: "Keep your $4, beehatch!")

I didn’t save her name, or her words. Because I didn’t want them in my life. And after my blood pressure settled back into the normal range, I felt just as solid about my choice to write this book as I ever had. Not everyone likes every book. Some people’s reasons are going to sit well with me, and others aren’t. All I can do is write the best book possible, and hope that it finds its audience.

Below I’ve made a (very short!) list of the only instances I could find where an M/M book was slated into an M/F series. (And none of these is NA.) Have you found others? I’d love to know!

M/M Stories in Otherwise M/F Series Include:
J.R. Ward’s Lover At Last, book 12 in her Black Dagger Brotherhood series.
Suzanne Brockmann’s When Tony Met Adam, a short story in her Troubleshooters series, and All Through the Night is Troubleshooters #12.
Lynda Aicher's erotic Wicked Play series has Bonds of Desire, the fifth book in the series.

Edit: stick tap to AJ Cousins for helping me with the list of M/M stories in M/F series!

Sarina Bowen is the author of the Ivy Years series. She loves bubbly wine, swoony books and hockey. But not necessarily at the same time.


Post a Comment

  1. I've read and loved all the previous books in the Ivy years series and I'm excited about the latest one. I read M/M stories in general and I feel they are not different from any other romance out there. If it's a good story with interesting characters and passionate chemistry between them, I'll enjoy it for sure!

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  2. I wasn't sure about this one when I had a chance to read it. It was my first M/M. But I love the Ivy Years series, and this one has the same genuine voice, same honest humor, and same underlying sweetness that makes the series so phenomenal.

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  3. Well, I'm going to go check out this series, which I hadn't heard of, BECAUSE you include both heterosexual and LGBTQ possibilities, so there mean-emailing-person.

    Also, I don't find the billionaire genre/LGBTQ genre analogous, myself? There's...a difference. I don't think someone would have been motivated to email you and say "You've lost a customer" because your next book in the series was a co-ed who fell in love with a hot venture capitalist.

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  4. Thank you, @Delancey!

    And thank you, @reecroteau! "So there mean-emailing-person." :-)

    The comparison is not analogous *politically.* But that's kind of the point. I was trying to get at the idea that we don't always choose our fiction with our political hats on. I want to make space in my thinking for readers who embrace equality it all the important ways without seeking out m/m attraction in her romance novels.

    Here's an interesting twist: a lot of the reviews I'm getting on UNDERSTATEMENT say "loved this story, and if this author writes any more m/m, I'll read it!" Surely it doesn't make sense to accuse *those* readers of... heterophobia? They read m/m because they like m/m. Full stop.

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    1. No, I think you're right. And I don't think it's exactly homophobic to not want to read m/m, and goodness knows there are some m/m stories that read like weird fetish pieces, and those creep me out even more, and...yeah. It's a complex thing, isn't it?

      I just tore through "The Year We Fell Down," and it's WONDERFUL. I can't wait to read the rest of the series.

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  5. You did such a powerful and brave thing following the flow of your series wherever it took you. Bravo! And also, I'm so glad you deleted that email. No one needs that kind of negativity in their life. <3

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  6. Thank you for writing what was truly in your heart. I am including a m/m, a f/f, and a m/f/f love stories in my series and I wondered what might happen since the majority of the series is m/f. Thank you for paving the road and letting us know what happened on your journey. I'm not surprised, but slightly disheartened. Love is love...and beautiful. Period. No need to justify anything to those who can't see the beauty in love. <3 Jules Dixon

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  7. You gotta do you! :)

    Wait. That sounds like a different kind of book... LOL Maybe I should say, you have to be true to yourself and your ideas!

    P.S. You had me at hockey. <3

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  8. Thanks, Stephanie & Julie! And... LOL, Carrie!

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  9. I am all for diversity. I want a love story and I don't care who it involves as long as it focuses on love over only lust. That is simply a matter of personal preference in reading, I am not anti lust just pro love. I read Nyrae Dawn's "Rush" which was my first M/M story and a NA offshoot from her YA book. I loved it because it focused on the love and I really felt that beautifully, even during the sexy scenes.

    While I only dip into the NA pool of books lightly and occasionally I love that you wrote this story and I will eventually get around to reading it. I just recently read your first book in this series and was very impressed with how you handled the issue of disabilities. It wasn't a cheap trick to excuse weird behavior in a character but a well thought out aspect that was explored though out the whole book and never exploited for drama for drama's sake. That happens to be a pet peeve of mine in NA so I found it really refreshing that you handled things so well.

    Truthfully, I do get squeamish reading about a hero who is with other people while we are rooting for them to end up with someone else but I got over it your first book so I guess I can get over with this new one too.

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  10. Thank you, Lynn! Your comment also made me realize that I've read FAR more negative comments about the almost-a-love-triangle in THE YEAR WE FELL DOWN than I've read reactions to writing M/M. So that bodes well for civilization. :-)

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  11. I experienced something different-but-similarly infuriating.

    A reader of my witchcraft/fantasy series finished my first book and commented "wow I didn't expect hot lesbian action. You should write a lot more sex scenes into your next books".

    :eyeroll:
    Ok what about the ACTUAL story?!?!

    I feel ya.
    Chin up! :)

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  12. Hi Sarina, I think you did a great job of capturing the college experience with the Ivy league series and having an m/m book in the mix just made it more realistic. Lori Foster has a series called Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor and there is a book called What Chris Wants that is m/m, mixed in with all the m/f stories. I don't know how it was received but I'm sure it shocked a lot of her readers. Personally if you had asked me a year ago if I read m/m I would have said no, not my thing and just ignored the book, though it wouldn't have affected my opinion of the author. Now, I can definitely say that isn't true and the few m/m books I've read have all been interesting, character driven stories with the HEA that I look for in a romance. Kudos to you for writing what your heart tells you to write!

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  13. Hey Sarina:

    Love is love. The end.

    xoxo

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  14. Sarina, this is such a great post. Really captures some of the internal struggle authors go through to be true to their ideas and voice. I think it's sometimes thought that we throw poop at the wall to see what sticks--or simply pull out the most controversial, etc. idea we can come up with. More often than not, we're trying to let characters do what they do. And we agonize over how it's going to be received!

    Stories like this are one reason I'm so proud of NA in general. Authors like yourself are putting out thoughtful books that are encouraging readers to venture into new territory, in literature and maybe even psychologically/socially. Well done!

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  15. Sarina, yes it's a risk, but that's what makes it fabulous. We don't need to please everyone out there, and we should never try.

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  16. I'm glad I stumbled across this blog post. I'm currently editing a novella series where in one story the romance is M/M and the next 2 stories are M/F and the last story M/M/F. Before reading this, I knew that would make things tricky, but I'm glad to read about an another author's experiences with something similar and how it turned out.

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  17. I actually read Understatement first precisely because it was m/m. I rave about it to everyone! And my new series has an m/m for its third book. Love is love. :)

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