#RomBkLove – Heroes and Heroines

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#RomBkLove Day 8: Heroes and Heroines. Who and Why? What is about them?

The flip answer is that heroes are hot and heroines non-existant. LOL. I write M/M; the dearth of heroines is a feature of the genre.

The more honest answer is pretty simple. Heroes/heroines need to be attractive in the eyes of their love interest, care about something outside themselves, and not be passive. That’s it.  No more or less is required. For convenience, I’m using male pronouns but this applies equally to male and female main characters.

Attractiveness isn’t a universally agreed upon standard and heroes often have quirky or unconventional ideas on the topic. The important part is that in the eye of his love interest, our hero is physically alluring and personally engaging. A big muscular hero could fall for a chubby love interest because they don’t feel fragile in the hero’s arms. He could find the love interest’s glasses a turn on because they remind him of the love interest’s witty intelligence. A hero could see beyond his love interest’s asshole nature to their hidden sweetness and insecurity. Individual details don’t really matter much and sometimes it can take a little digging to find a hero’s ‘personally engaging’ bits, but as long as they captivate their love interest, it’s enough.

Caring about something outside themselves is another subjective standard, but a necessary one. Our hero has to have some fundamental thing that motivates him outside of his own self-interest. Protecting his family, helping his friends, defending the innocent, seeking justice, rescuing kittens… something and it doesn’t even have to be the main thing. For example, a billionaire businessman whose drive for wealth and power is as much about preserving his father’s legacy or ensuring his family will never be homeless again as it is his own recompense. And sometimes finding that purpose outside of himself can be the whole focus of a story.

The third criterion is probably the most important. Cherry-picking from Merriam-Webster’s definition, a hero is a person admired for achievements and noble qualities, one who shows great courage or the central figure in an event, period, or movement. By none of those descriptions can a hero be passive. They have to do things and make decisions, even if they’re wrong.  A hero needs to try and fail and try again until he succeeds whether that’s with his love interest or something outside of the romantic relationship. He can’t just accept his love interests rejection, he has to hatch an over-the-top, crazy plan to win his love, overcoming all sorts of obstacles including literally falling on his face at the most critical moment only to stand back up and have another go. A hero with an intolerant, homophobic family has to actively choose between his parents and his love interest and maybe he makes the wrong choice a few times before light dawns on Marblehead. Boring heros are almost always reactionary.

That’s it. To me, those three things are the heart of a good hero or heroine. Everything else is just story specific details.

Being me and writing M/M Romance

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So as you know, Where I Belong is coming out May 27th from JMS Books, LLC.  (Please forgive the shameless self-promotion) And I’ve run into this weird emotional eddy of how I integrate my writing life as Jae Moran and my “real” life. I’m kinda hoping that writing about it will help me resolve my conflicting feelings, so bear with me.

First, we have to take a short detour into backstory-ville or TMI about your erstwhile author. I’m a bisexual woman and have been in a committed same-sex relationship for almost my entire adult life. My immediate family does everything in their power to ignore both of those facts. Over the years, we have grown comfortable with the purple elephant in the room and they do, in fact, treat my partner, Sunshine Smartypants as she’s known here in the blog, well and with some affection. This is all aided by the fact that they live 3000 miles away and we only see each other once a year or so.

I think they would be more directly accepting if I was actually lesbian and not bi. My mother, in particular, can’t wrap her head around bisexuality as a concept. In the past, she has gazed upon the giant purple elephant and wondered aloud why someone who could have an opposite-sex partner would choose to take what she perceives to be a harder road. Because we generally only have a week together, it’s easier on everyone if I roll my eyes and walk away. For the most part, she accepts Sunshine as part of the family and that’s enough reason not to rock that particular boat.

What does this have to do with my book coming out? I’m proud of Where I Belong and I am gobsmacked that it’s actually going to be published, but I haven’t really told many people in my “real” life. I’ve told a few of our friends and Sunshine has told some her family, much to my dismay. More on that in a minute. But, I haven’t snoopy danced all over Facebook the way I’d like. As I have built this infrastructure around Jae Moran, my social media life has become bifurcated. Facebook is where I keep my “real” life and Twitter is home to Jae Moran. Don’t worry, Jae is the real me, same as always, just maybe a bit less introverted.

Anyway, the more people who know about Where I Belong, the more likely it is that someone will accidentally out me on Facebook and I will have to explain to my family that little old bisexual me writes (relatively) sexually explicit M/M Romance… There is no way people who can’t wrap their head around my being bi will ever reconcile that without a tedious conversation I don’t want to have.

Now, back to Sunshine telling her family about the book. Most of the Smartypants family hear the word “romance”, tepidly congratulate me and move on. Yesterday Sunshine had lunch with her aunt and cousin and told them about the book. She’s proud of me and tells everyone who will listen then shows them the book trailer you guys haven’t seen yet (soon, I promise). Apparently, Sunshine’s aunt and cousin were so excited that they immediately whipped out their phones/tablets and pre-ordered. Sweet, right?  %sigh% The problem with those two is they will actually read it.

And for the record, it’s not the M/M part that vexes me–it’s the sexually explicit part. Having people I know reading the sexually explicit thoughts from inside my head freaks me out. I would feel the same way if I wrote M/F, F/F, or any other combination romance. For a while, I worried it was some latent LGBT-phobia that kept me in the M/M closet, but it’s not. I don’t know if it’s some internal slut shaming or just because I’m uncomfortable talking about sex, which I often am. I blush and stammer a lot. Although, I don’t seem to have any trouble writing about it and letting strangers read it, so buy the book.

Up until Where I Belong was headed for publication, my writing life and my “real” life existed in parallel and the only place they touched was through Sunshine and she’s the most supportive partner a girl could ask for. Suddenly both lives are bumping into one another all over the place making me anxious in a way I don’t quite know how to process. I know that some of this is bleed over from my unsettled feelings about the book actually being published. I’ve been living on the knife-edge between excitement and terror for a while now, and other authors tell me this near panic is perfectly normal, but it doesn’t feel that way yet.

One day soon, I’ll navigate my way through this uncomfortable personal growth and be able to just be open about who I am and what I write, but not quite yet. For now, Sunshine Smartypants is the only one who sees all of me and I can live with that. For now.

 

Writing, Race & Indecision

Okay… While my Goodreads M/M Don’t Read in the Closet story is getting squished through the meat grinder, I mean editing process, I thought I’d write about the plot bunny torturing me with his sharp little teeth and claws. It’s a story I want to write it, but I probably won’t.

The basic set-up goes like this… A gay, black man in his mid/late thirties raising his adopted foster kids (of varying race, ethnicity and disability) with his ex-husband meets his younger, gay, white neighbor with no experience with kids and a romance ensues. Lots of points of conflict… black/white, older/younger, kids/no-kids, divorced/never married…

“Sounds great. Why not write it?” you ask. Because it has to do with race.

I’m a white, middle-class writer living in lily white Maine. The very idea of writing a black main character terrifies me. I’m afraid I’ll get skewered by the internet outrage factory for either ignoring the fact that my character is black or, even worse, for lacking any authenticity in the way I write about it.

Race is complicated. It is a mash-up of culture, ethnicity, language and socio-economics that is unique to each individual and universal at the same time. It affects every part of a persons understanding of the world. I don’t think I have ever met a person of color who doesn’t have this litter kernel of rage at the fundamental unfairness of racism that like a pea under the mattress keeps them from being comfortable in the world. And it operates on every level from the obvious to so subtle it’s almost invisible.

My best friend tells me I’m overthinking. She doesn’t understand how I can write about gay rodeo cowboys without being one and not be able to write about a guy, a lot like the divorced guys we actually know, who happens to be black. I don’t understand either, but it is different. The risk of getting it wrong feels greater than any reward for getting it right.

Usually when I get this scared of a story it means I’m headed in the right direction. That visceral fear makes the writing better. It’s not like race is even the central issue of the story. I dunno maybe that’s enough of a reason to start writing and see where it goes.

In my head, Marcus, the dad in my story, is bugging me about how awesome his kids are and what broke up his marriage. He looks a lot like Boris Kodjoe, but he wants me to point out that he isn’t balding, nor has he completely shaved his head. Apparently Marcus’s a little vain and sensitive about his age. His love interest, Wade, who looks kinda like Ben Elliot, is still kind of amorphous, but he talks to me a lot about his bulldog.

Marcus, aka Boris Kodjoe

Wade, aka Ben Eliiot

Yes, I frequently have entire conversations with imaginary people. Writing is a lot harder when the characters don’t talk to me .

I’m not sure what all this says about me other than I’m a little chickenshit around the edges. I can tackle suicide, domestic violence, and addiction and all sorts of delicate topics, but race pushes me beyond the pale. I know it is a little white, liberal guilt coupled with a deep need not to be eviscerated in public. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

As always, your thoughts are always welcome.

Jae

ALWAYS Looking for Beta Readers

Due to attrition, overwork and new babies, my posse of beta readers has dwindled to a meager few. Sadly, as much as I hoped they were telling the truth when they said ask again next month, they weren’t. Anyway, I am looking for Beta Readers. I don’t care if you’re not a grammar whiz. or a literary god/goddess. If you love books and words and M/M romance and are willing to tell me why you love/hate what I’ve written, let me know. If you even might be interested, take a look at Measuring the Rein (HERE) and see the kind of stuff I write. Well, it’s actually not the best thing I’ve ever written, but I was overambitious on a short deadline. It needed to marinate in a drawer for three months before I edited/rewrote it. I think the bones and language are okay, but it probably needed to be tightened by about 20%. Anyway, I’m still proud of it and I’ll probably revisit it sometime in the future.

In case you stumbled here on accident: I write gay male romance, some of it pretty explicit but not extremely so. It’s romance, not porn. If that’s not something you’re going to be comfortable with, being a beta reader for me is probably not for you.

For more info on being a beta reader:

So if you are interested, drop me an email… jaemoran4@gmail.com

Thanks in advance,

Jae