E.J. Russell — certified geek, mother of three, recovering actor — lives in rural Oregon with her curmudgeonly husband. She enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.
Nothing blinds us like the filter of our own experience.
In the late 1970s, I was the assistant manager at a bookstore (we still had bookstores then). At a store party one night, one of the sales clerks (a man, who was making a serious attempt to hit on me) asked whether it bothered me to supervise men.
I was speechless—it had never occurred to me that it was an issue. I mean, the modern feminist movement had existed for more than ten years! (Yes, I was that oblivious, imagining that the battle had been won because from my perspective, I saw myself as his equal.)
Needless to say, attempt at seduction was unsuccessful.
Fast forward to 2010, when, after discovering the joys of reading romance thanks to my first e-reader and a romance bundle that included both Suzanne Brockmann and Jennifer Crusie, I was hard at work plotting a romance series of my own. In the spirit of “write what you know”, my books were set in a summer theater in the Berkshires (I have two theater degrees, and met my Curmudgeonly Husband while we were both working at a summer theater in Vermont).
Six books, I thought, with the first between an administrator and an actor; the second between an acting teacher and the company housekeeper; the third between the set designer and his stage manager husband; the fourth—
Stop. Right. There.
Because my experience had been diverse in terms of the romantic relationships in the theater community, when I was planning the series, it made sense that at least a couple of the books should be about two men. It was normal for me, normal for the milieu, a reasonable expectation. Right?
In terms of the larger publishing industry, not so much.
When I attended the spring conference given by my local chapter of RWA, Rose City Romance Writers, in 2011, the editors and agents who attended were universal in their disinterest in A) a romance between two men and B) a series that included both M/F and M/M pairings. One editor, from Harlequin, said that Carina might be the only publisher who’d be willing to look at something so outré. I mean, Suzanne Brockmann had done it inside a big publishing house, but she was a big name, with a wildly popular series, and consequently an exception.
At this time, I had no idea that the LGBTQIA romance community existed. (Experience blindness strikes again!) It wasn’t until a presentation at an RCRW meeting, when then-chaptermate Cathryn Cade mentioned Josh Lanyon, that I had any clue that a thriving M/M romance market was out there, and that my notion of writing a happily-ever-after love story between two men wasn’t a lonely unicorn.
|LOST IN GEEKLANDIA|
Thanks to that presentation, I found a wealth of books like the stories I wanted to tell. I also discovered that if you look in the right places, you can find houses interested in publishing those stories. My first official sale was to Entangled—Northern Light, a M/M ghost story submitted in response to a Halloween novella submission call.
Entangled publishes primarily M/F romances, and for at least a year, Northern Light was one of only two books in their impressive catalog in which the central love story was between two men. My second book with Entangled, Lost in Geeklandia, the first in my Geeklandia series, is a M/F rom-com. But the second in the series, Stumptown Spirits (a M/M romance), just sold to Riptide, the same publisher who contracted my M/M Legend Tripping series (which makes me deliriously happy, by the way).
So, just as I imagined with my summer theater stories, I’ll have a series with both M/F and M/M pairings, although they’ll be released by different publishers (one who publishes predominantly straight romance, one who only handles queer fiction). From the perspective of readers looking for a particular type of book, this makes sense—and as an author who wants my books to be discoverable to readers who might be interested, ditto.
But for me as a person, as an avid romance reader, as the mother of gay sons, and with many friends in the LGBTQIA communities, I hope that someday, within the little universe of a romance series, it won’t matter whether the primary relationship is between a cisgendered man and woman, or some other pairing. That someday, all readers will be open to—and be able to find—happily-ever-afters for any combination of people in love.
Call me naive, clueless, or hopelessly optimistic.
Although it could be that our experience blinkers simply need an adjustment. ~ E.J.
I hope you'll check out the blurb below for my upcoming novel set in Portland, Oregon!
STUMPTOWN SPIRITS, coming from Riptide Publishing, May 16, 2016
What price would you pay to rescue a friend from hell?
For Logan Conner, the answer is almost anything. Guilt-ridden over trapping his college roommate in a ghost war rooted in Portland’s pioneer past, Logan has spent years searching for a solution. Then his new boyfriend, folklorist Riley Morrel, inadvertently gives him the key. Determined to pay his debt—and keep Riley safe—Logan abandons Riley and returns to Portland, prepared to give up his freedom and his future to make things right.
Crushed by Logan’s betrayal, Riley drops out of school and takes a job on a lackluster paranormal investigation show. When the crew arrives in Portland to film an episode about a local legend of feuding ghosts, he stumbles across Logan working at a local bar, and learns the truth about Logan’s plan.
Their destinies once more intertwined, the two men attempt to reforge their relationship while dodging a narcissistic TV personality, a craven ex-ghost, and a curmudgeonly bar owner with a hidden agenda. But Logan’s date with destiny is looming, and his life might not be the only one at stake.