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?
(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.