Friday, February 5, 2010

Genre Purity

The day after I last posted, writing about reviews, I found a new review for Necessary Madness. Matthew at Rainbow Reviews wrote:

The villain in this tale is deliciously drawn. I think a story is only as strong as it's hero and villain, and this villain is top rate! His seductive manner and twisted mind combine to equally attract and repel.

Obviously that comment made me very happy, especially since I worked extra hard to make Stefan a complex, believable character with plausible motives for his evil behavior. On the other hand, I was disappointed that the reviewer only gave me three and a half out of five stars. Now maybe I'm just conceited, but I thought the book deserved better. I was really grateful to Matthew for taking the time to review the novel, of course. But I wondered why he didn't like it more.

Then I noted the following caveat:

One note of caution for the gay readers who are less interested in bisexuality ~ there is a vividly described scene of female masturbation as well as some male/female S&M action in this story.

Was this the reason that Rainbow Reviews, which dedicates itself GLBT fiction, dropped me a star or so? Because I failed the "genre purity" test?

The scenes that the reviewer describes are about one page each and do not involve the main (male) characters. The interludes exist primarily to establish the nature of Stefan's character (manipulative, charismatic, sadistic) rather than to arouse. It never occurred to me that they might bother some readers.

This isn't the first time I've encountered this perspective. Another review site refused to review the book at all because of the minimal M/F interaction. I was annoyed, I must admit, though obviously this was the site owner's prerogative.

It really makes me wonder, though. Are readers so particular that they will reject a book that has some variety in its sexual pairings? Are they so sensitive that they're going to be turned off by a little bit of something they might not have expected from the genre label?

Perhaps I'm the one being overly sensitive. My first three novels all contain pretty much every variety of pairing: M/F, M/M, F/F, plus threesomes and foursomes. I enjoy mixing things up, partly because I'm convinced that most humans fall somewhere on a continuum between homosexual and heterosexual and might well get involved with a partner of either gender under certain circumstances. These books did fairly well, especially the first, Raw Silk. Maybe there's a big readership out there that enjoys the kind of no-holds-barred pairings that come naturally to me. Maybe the readers who like M/M are unusually picky. Or maybe I'm getting all riled up about nothing--a few comments by a few individuals who don't represent the majority.

So what do you think? If you like M/M fiction, will you get upset if you discover that a book you've chosen isn't "pure"? And what about the other way around? If you're a fan of heterosexual romance, will a bit of gay or lesbian activity turn you off?

I'd really love to know.

9 comments:

  1. Hi Lisabet,
    Well, I can't say I have read any M/M stories, they don't do much for me, but that said, in the context of a mainly M/F novel, a couple of pages of M/M certainly wouldn't put me off. If I didn't really like the scene, I would just skip those pages and enjoy the rest of the story.
    Regards
    Margaret

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  2. Hi Lisabet,

    Unfortunately, M/M readers do, in fact, get upset if you mix in a vagina. I made a big mistake and wrote a M/M/F into my Cattle Valley series. It was one story and the readers had really come to know the female in the story. Wow! Did I hear about it. I learned my lesson with that one. I think it is different if you market a book or series as mixed, but to put a vagina in a marketed M/M book is upsetting to a lot of people.

    If you have to put a vagina scene in the story to establish your characters or for a story line, just don't describe in detail the vaginal parts. LOL

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  3. Hey Lisabet

    I think perhaps the M/M folks should broaden their horizons, lol. I've never written a straight M/M, but I certainly don't mind a mix... but then I'm not a straight M/M reader.
    As for the stars...it could very well have nothing to do with the mix... I've found reviewers don't always match their stars to the review. I've seen awesome glowing reviews that only gained 3.5 and then seen simple, one line... I liked it... sort of stuff that gained 4. So don't go by that. I think the words Matthew wrote were more than impressive. As a reader, I'd pay more attention to that, if I were going to use the review at all to sway me. Let's face it. I think it's a bit like figure skating judging. The top novels don't always get the top ratings and there are those that do, and you can't figure out why... it's just too subjective.
    Congrats on the awesome "words".

    hugs,
    Kris

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  4. Lisabet,

    Unfortunately, it does seem to be one of those tags that turns of quite a fe of the GLBT reviewers - having straight or "het" themed scenes in the midst of all the action. I advise people frequently when they approach my material that as much as humanly possible I engage in genre bending (>rimshot< thank you, I'll be here all week...:) However, as I recently said in an interview, I also write over, around, underneath, and right through the fence. There is ALWAYS a risk when writing across sexual preferences, but, hey, if it's true to the story, then go ahead. In fact, you may turn off one, but gain three more readers... It's like the adverts for the lottery: "Hey, ya never know..."

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  5. Hello, all,

    Thanks for your comments--especially yours, Carol, since you have such a huge fan base of M/M readers. I have to say this annoys the hell out of me, pardon my French. It's enough to make me give up writing M/M altogether, despite its popularity.

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  6. I think there are a lot of m/m readers who would prefer not to have to read about the girlie bits, and I happen be one of them. Some days. Then other days, I don't mind. Like everything else about human nature, I think it's a continuum.

    Jaime

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  7. People want writers to choose them over our characters; but, readers don't know everything about what they want. Then they hate our work if we write the same thing over and over again, just like they said they LOVED it. Yesterday.

    Write what YOU like. Write for the characters who entrust their stories to you, and who you'll be more intimate with than with any fan, pretty much ever.

    Enjoy the good comments, but don't gloat. And rewrite the bad ones. I like to drop out the "bad" bits and use ellipses to connect them for the RIGHT quote I can still use in marketing.

    Or just quote them in whole and comment on what the heck were they thinking?

    It's interesting when men who love men fear vulvas will make THEM soft. And then go all Nazi dictator, and Stalin on telling you the writer what to write. Now let's go comment on THEIR life's work.

    --Neale Sourna
    www.neale-sourna.com

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  8. Hi Lisabet,

    I'm writing something up on this -- I think the last question you put was the most important. Yes, I would object to het in MM Fiction, because by definition MM fiction is about exclusively male coupling.

    However, if you were to ask me, do I object to het in GLBT fiction, or in MMF fiction, or in any other random combination of the above, my answer would be no, because the definitions encompass the concept of sexual fluidity in a way that the definition MM fiction does not.

    I hope that makes sense and is clear -- I don't think that writing female centric scenes is a bad thing, I just don't think it falls under the label that was placed on your book.

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  9. Lisabet

    I'm one of those M/M readers who objects strongly to M/F or menage (M/M/F or M/F/M) in M/M romances. Readers on my site also object to het pairings or females in a sexual role in their M/M books, and the reason they frequent the site is because they know that any book we recommend will be "pure" M/M.

    I always ask authors who request that we review their M/M books if there are M/F scenes in the books so that we are not surprised, and we have not reviewed some books because the authors were not honest. Recently a reader refused a free book on the site because there was one M/F scene with a prostitite - that's how strongly they object to females in M/M books.

    Of course as an author you should write what you want, but as readers we reserve the right to read what turns US on.

    I know my personal position seems to be limiting, but I used to read het romances a long time ago and for various reasons stopped doing so and have chosen to restrict the books reviewed on my site to M/M, with no on-page female sex.

    For a site such as R/R, I think it's probably up to the individual reviewer and it has nothing to do with the site's policy with respect to whether he or she comments in a review about het sex or female masturbation. Each site has its own policies.

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