A little background:
I have read books all of my life. I remember, at the earliest age, sitting on a swing in my backyard reading the Little House on the Prairie and Nancy Drew books as fast as humanly possible. I was lost in the world of Laura and Nancy – their loves, home life, daily adventures everything was fascinating to a young girl growing up in Nowhere-in-Particular, Indiana. After several years, in my teens, I graduated to biographies, I’m not sure why but the idea of reading about someone else’s life, since mine was dull as dish water, intrigued me and for about the next 10 years they dominated my reading library.
Then I remember somewhere around the age of 23 my sister was really into the paperback romance novels of the 1980’s – I’m talking unbuttoned-shirt-Fabio-cover addiction status! It was funny to me, how she would go on and on about how masculine he was, how great the stories were, she would show me the covers and I still wasn’t really impressed. I mean, I would see hundreds of these books at the local bookstore or on the library shelves, I just never started to read them. Growing up in a fairly strict Baptist upbringing you are constantly discouraged against anything that will take your young, impressionable mind into the forays of a romance that wasn’t, at the very onset, chaste and proper – meaning, no touching until married and then starting the proverbial “happy family” right away. At this time in my life I was living on my own, working as many hours as I possibly could get from the office I worked in, and my reading genre of choice was pretty much relegated to topics about starting my own business and how to succeed in life, blah, blah, blah. Remember Charles Given’s book Wealth Without Risk in the late eighties? Yup, I must have read that book ten times over. While my sister was being silly, reading about muscle-bound men in cravats and their bosomy damsels-in-distress, I was trying to learn how to crawl my out of my meager existence into a life of wealth and luxury. Um, yeah right.
When I married my husband in 1992 we decided to start a family right away and in late 1993 I started having children – three to be exact. The only book I remember reading during this world-wind era of family building was What to Expect When Your Expecting – I read it several times (shouldn’t I have known what to expect after number one?). After the kids started to get bigger (they do that when you feed and water them), going to school and driving me into mommy-insanity, the only books I remember passing through my unmanicured, kid-sticky fingers were a vast assortment of primary-colored children’s books and cookbooks – nice enough, but not very inspiring. It would be 15 long years, many kid milestones and a couple houses later before I finally started to read like a real grown-up!
In late 2008 I was on a library outing with my kiddo’s and while they perused the YA and children’s sections I sauntered over to take a look at the biographies, but a cover of a book across the aisle stopped me in my tracks – it was Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Fantasy Lover from the Dark-Hunter Series – the man on the cover, for one actually had a shirt on but he was dark, brooding and the typeset design was amazing (I’m kind of a visual person) – I was drawn to it like a magnet, picked it up and was sold just by the blurb and never turned back. I needed an escape, a place to slip away and be something other than a mommy and housewife – even if just inside of a book, this was exactly what the doctor ordered. And, it also wasn’t lost on me that in essence, I had probably become more like my sister than ever before; now I knew the pull of the man on the cover of the novel and the promise of traveling to a different time and place via the story between the artful covers. My sister wasn’t silly after all, she was a grown-up.
There was one difference between the demure Fabio-laden covers of my sister’s paperback romances, the books I read were heavy with erotica with a little romance slipped in for good measure. Another author’s books I remember reading and thinking, ‘Holy crap, yeah!’ was Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander Series – you don’t read these books without a bucket of ice water nearby and Ms. Moning is a master world-builder, just phenomenal! The men were big, brave and not always a gentleman and the women were very much o.k. with that! Seriously, as someone who came from a background of vanilla-tame YA, biographies and cookbooks, I could not believe some of the stuff I was reading. I had found something that some women, even to this day do not have: I found the grown-up woman inside, the one who can be sexy, smart and who can absolutely love men, faults and all!
For about a year I devoured these books to the tune of several a week, I hit my library every week and went through the backlog of these wonderful authors like nobody’s business – I always wondered what the 20-something, goatee wearing librarian dude thought of me that year. Then for Christmas 2009 my husband bought me my first Kindle eReader, and once again, everything changed!
Something happens when you don’t have to buy or borrow your erotic romance from a person standing behind the counter anymore: you become empowered. There’s no more stigma, just you and millions of books that cost more than the library but much less than the hardback in the local retail store ($24 a pop kept my reading to a minimum). One of the very first books I bought – and I mean literally it’s like the first book listed in my Kindle library – was Submission by Kimberly Zant, my first venture into the world of a woman with multiple partners – yikes, was it hot! Even though Submission was by far the most risque, ergo enjoyable, book I had read so far, it paled in comparison to what was to come, which was the single book that changed everything for me and indirectly introduced me to the genre I would not only read exclusively but one that I would find a real connection with, a genre that to this very moment I work in, promote and love very much – the book was Tempted by Megan Hart.
Why did Tempted change me so much, change almost everything about how I think of the world and how it works – and doesn’t work? The book is about Anne and James, a young married couple living their perfect life in a lakehouse they love – they had a perfect little world, were madly in love and then James’ best friend from college, Alex, comes in for a summer visit… and the perfect world gets a major shake-up. I don’t want to give this story away, seriously, it’s a wonderful book and for me I found myself more interested in the relationship between James and Alex, than their relationship with Anne. It’s brilliant how this author slipped in the complex and sensual friendship between James and Alex, how you are captivated by their past, their emotions, not only to Anne, but most especially toward each other. I was so engrossed in James and Alex’s relationship, I actually found myself annoyed at Anne for getting in the way, for interrupting. Let me tell you, when an author has you so engrossed in the characters that you reflect a whole range of emotions upon them – these fictional characters – that, my friend, is a gem to behold!
So I started to wonder, ‘what other books are out there with intimate friendships between men?’ And that’s when I found the gay romance genre – also known in the industry as M/M romance – a whole new world of stories, series, authors and publishers opened up to me and I haven’t looked back even once! Nothing compares to reading about men who love men: the relationships are more complex, antagonists take on a whole array of characteristics not confined to just a gender, but rather to the personality within the gender, their role within their love life and their lover/partner. Fascinating, is an understatement!
So this is how I got to where I am: from fighting the trend to read regency-style paperback romances to reading M/M erotic romance; working as a freelancer within the industry and caring more about the LGBT community than ever before. I also find that I truly care about the brave authors who tirelessly promote their work within the indie fray, because mainstream publishing is too stuck in their dinosaur-old-boys-club ways to see the forest for the freakin’ trees: If women like to read about men, it would make since we like to read about more than one!
Next: Why I Prefer to Read Gay M/M Erotic Romance vs. Straight Het Romance