I get the occasional odd look when people realize I write gay fiction. Married woman in her early forties with two kids, no gay siblings or cousins or aunts or uncles or anyone in my immediate family as far as I'm aware. (There is a second cousin once removed, but I've never actually met him, just heard about him.) So what in the world am I doing writing gay fiction?
There's a couple of answers to that question, both lighthearted and serious. I like men. More men is better. That's the lighthearted part, but it's also true. I like the idea. It appeals to me. Does that make me a pervert? I suppose that depends on who you ask.
But it doesn't stop there. If it did, I'd just subscribe to gay porn sites and read the amazing books written by other writers in this genre. It's also, to me, a quiet form of social activism.
When I attended my first Cincinnati Pride Festival four years ago and ran a booth for Dreamspinner, the reaction I got from the men there left me reeling. Men of every age, size, race, and degree of flamboyant stopped at our table, picked up our books, and said, "These are about men like me?" I said yes because even if the specific book didn't mirror the specific man, the men weren't asking to that degree of specificity. "Books with happy endings?" "Well, most of them," I replied. "I didn't know there was such a thing!" Some of them bought books, some of them took cards, many of them hugged us, and all of them, every last one, thanked us for caring enough about them and their situation to write books about them as they were, living their normal lives, and looking for love.
This has played out numerous other times since then, at other events, in large groups and small.
But our audience isn't, and shouldn't be, just gay men. Our audience is wider than that. There's a funny story from the first year Dreamspinner had a booth at Book Expo America. We were giving out gift bags of books to pretty much anyone who came by. A woman probably in her sixties came to the booth and congratulated us for what we were doing, even though she wasn't sure she wanted to read the books herself. We convinced her to take a copy of Curious, since the whole point of that anthology was to provide an introduction to gay romance to women unfamiliar with the genre. She took the book finally. The next day she came back to the booth. "I read that book you gave me last night. It was really good. Do you have anything a little... spicier?" We sent her home with the full gift bag.
That woman may not be a regular Dreamspinner customer now. I have no way of knowing that. But I know she looks at gay couples with a more open mind for having read and enjoyed our books. How can she not? How can she read Checkmate or Tigers and Devils or any of the other eight titles that were given away that year and not look at them differently? Yes, our books, my books as an author, feature gay men, but the stories are bigger than that. They're about love. Period.
Alliance in Blood is being translated into French, Spanish, and Italian to my utter delight, and the translators have corresponded with me several times since they started. The consistent theme of their e-mails has been how the love between the characters happens to be between two men, but the relationship they're building is universal. And isn't that what it's all about? Showing our characters, our men, as the guys next door or down the street or across town who want nothing more than to be able to love one another freely and without fear?
Maybe, just maybe, I'm doing a small part to contribute to the day when that will be reality, not a dream. If one person walks away from my body of work with a more open mind than when they arrived, I will have left a mark in the world that's worth being proud of.