Not That Kind of Sub

There are a couple of parallel discussions going on right now that have Venn-diagrammed their way into my feeds, and last night’s #RWChat cemented something I’ve been feeling vaguely “off” about for a while.

I’m not a sub-genre.

Let me explain.

Sub-Genres of Romance

There are a couple of places you can go to get different lists of sub-genres for Romance. Obviously, the RWA has a list: Contemporary, Erotic, Historical, Paranormal, Religious/Spiritual, Suspense, and YA. Wikipedia adds a couple: breaking down part of what the RWA calls Paranormal into Science Fiction and Time-Travel, and adding Multicultural (more on that in a bit).

That was the stage set, so to speak, for the discussion on #RWChat about sub-genres in romance, and one of the questions was “should there be new sub-genres?” and, of course, queer came up as a suggestion.

And that’s where I started to flinch.

Queer as a Sub-Genre?

Now, before I start, I do want to point out where the notion comes from in the minds of most, and that it’s from a good place. Let’s be honest, queer characters don’t get the recognition in romance that their allocishet counterpart characters do. That’s just the current reality.

To ground this in my own experience, I’ve been waffling over joining the local chapter of the RWA. I got invited to a lunch, I already know a few of the authors though awesome events like Romancing the Capital, and my romance output is rising, so it seemed like something worth exploring. Shortly into the dinner, one of the authors announced that they didn’t believe men could be bisexual.

So. I had a choice. I could make a bit of a scene and speak out, or I could wait and see what happened. I chose the latter (I regret that) and nothing happened. I think I managed a weak “I’m not sure you get to decide that,” a few moments later than would be effective.

I haven’t joined the RWA. Maybe another year.

So, when I see organizations like the RWA and their awards go (almost exclusively) to allocishet characters, I’m totally not surprised. And I get why it seems like making a sub-genre just for queer characters is a great idea. I can even see how there’s some merit to it.

Yes, Queer is a Sub-Genre!

For one? There’d be a queer winner of a RITA every year, right? There’d have to be, if there was a sub-genre just for queer characters in romance, rather than the occasional one here and there, and some years not at all.

For another? Visibility. Those titles short-listed would be a quick, easy, one-stop shop to show people some queer characters in romance.

Even more? Legitimacy. If someone like the RWA (okay, maybe not my local chapter) was loud about saying “Queer Characters are Welcome in Romance!” that’s a big deal. Their history with that isn’t so great, and it would go a long way.

So why don’t I like it?

No, Queer isn’t a Sub-Genre!

Honestly? It’s the flip side of the positives I listed above.

For one? There’d be only one winner of a RITA every year with a queer character, because any book with a queer character would be shunted into the queer character box. Never mind if there was a contemporary romance with queer characters that was far and away better than the allocishet character contemporaries on the short list, and also a YA romance with amazing trans characters that blew the allocishet character YA romance shortlist out of the water: only one of them could win. Because they’re queer, and they get one award, competing against each other, even though they’re vastly different sub-genres with only their queerness in common.

For another? The rest of the awards become a queer-free zone by default, and the notion of allocishet characters as “normal” or “default” is increased. Because if there’s one queer romance sub-genre, but thirteen other genres that aren’t, how is that not the message? Books with allocishet characters would get to be considered in groupings of their plots, tropes, and against similar titles. But queer would judged for being queer.

Last? From a publishing point of view, it can actively delegitimize. “We have a sub-genre for queer stories” sounds solid until that becomes a limitation. Think about what women of colour face in the romance world (and, thereby, their characters). “No, we have the four titles we’re publishing for our black-women line this month.” “Oh, but my book is a romantic suspense with a black lead, you publish eight romantic suspenses a month, so…” “No. It’s a black-woman, so it only goes here. Four titles a month. Period.” This is why I get twitchy about “Multicultural” as a sub-genre, too.

Not to mention queer people of colour exist. Where do they go? The multicultural romance, or the queer romance? Which one trumps the other? This is why “people as a sub-genre” gets messy. People are messy. We don’t fit one box.

Oh, yeah, and what happens when that line gets canceled?

Okay, Smart-Guy, Solutions?

Yeah, I didn’t say I had a solution.

Well, no, I do: judge romances with queer characters alongside those with allocishet romances and do so on a level playing field with judges capable of reading them without bias but ha ha ha, yeah. I could barely finish that with a straight face. After all, men can’t be bisexual, right?

Heavy sigh.

The good news is I’ve heard from other readers that romances with queer characters are making strides. Radclyffe, who writes lesbian romances across many romance sub-genres, has been a finalist in many RWA chapter contests in the correct sub-genre category for her books (thanks for that info, Ruth!). That’s progress.

I also totally respect the opposing opinion here. I’m just as tired as anyone else of queer characters barely making it to the foreground of awards and recognition and bestseller lists, and I can empathize with “I don’t care if it means there’s just one winner every year and one short list. At least it would exist and shows we exist.” Like I said above, that’s a fair freaking point.

And maybe it has to go through that step first in places like the RWA, with the ultimate goal of later disentangling it into the sub-genre awards? I don’t know. But I think things like the Rainbow Awards, the Publishing Triangle Awards, and the Lambda Literary Awards (and other queer awards) fill a niche of queer-character writing awards, and they have genre breakdowns built-in. It’s still about the genres there.

I want places like the RWA and Goodreads to step up, not pen us in.

So, I guess, that’s my solution. Not that the RWA and Goodreads will do it, but that we need to make them do it. Groups like Women of Color in Romance (if you don’t follow them, go follow them, right now) do fantastic work to make noise and highlight the incredibly talented women of color writing romance out there who already exist but don’t get the same massive attention the white authors do because publishing is so very, very white.

Publishing is also so very, very allocishet.

I want more noise. Noise about all the #ownvoice writers and characters that exist in romance—queers included—and maybe that’s what it will take to get those books on the shortlists in the sub-genre categories where they belong.

Wait, Goodreads?

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Handmade Holidays is a contemporary romance. It has gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans people in it. It’s still a contemporary romance.

Yeah, that was the other circle on the Venn Diagram, and I don’t want to say it all again, but once again the Goodreads Choice Awards are up, and soon it’ll be time to vote and there’s a petition going around to create an LGBTQ+ category to vote in.

And all those same reasons for it to be good—and bad—apply. Because I think back to 2014, and Two Boys Kissing deserved to be the winner in YA, not LGBTQ+. Ditto They Both Die at the End this year.

But there were next to no books with queer characters on the initial list of titles. And that’s not a surprise. Because while queer people are expected to read allocishet books and be satisfied, the opposite isn’t true. And no one can force someone to read a book they don’t want to read. We’re outnumbered, and will always be so.

So, no. I’ve got no happy solution. But I did write-in a book with queer-characters into every slot where I thought that book was the best book I’d read this year. That’s what I can do with the system the way it is, and so I do. And sometimes I didn’t add a book with queer-characters (I voted for The Hate U Give in YA, even though there’s zero queer content, because that book was amazeballs and freaking important and I want it to win all the prizes and I hope They Both Die at the End wins all the Lammies and PTAs and Rainbows and that’s why I love that there are queer-character awards, too).

I’m not a Sub-Genre.

My final thoughts on this snarl are exactly that: just mine. I’m not speaking for all of queer kind here. I can’t. I’m only queer in my own way.

As a reader, I want to see queer reality in all the genres. In science fiction, in mystery, in literature, in romance, in YA, in all the categories. All of them. Even horror, which I barely read. Readers deserve to see themselves. The magic of digital tagging means readers can drill down to find those titles, too.

But I—again, just me, speaking for me—don’t want it to be “Queer,” with a sub-category of “Romance” if that means when I click “Romance” there will be no queer. Queer belongs in romance. Period. I want to click “Romance,” and then “Contemporary” and then be able to find the queer titles. And I want to see shortlists for awards where “Contemporary Short-form Romance” includes a novella with trans characters.

If that means places like the RWA have to learn men can be bisexuals first? Well. It’s time to roll up my sleeves and get back to teaching instead of waiting to hear what they currently say.

 

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Writing Wednesday – Locked Out

Well, that wasn’t the morning I had planned.

My schedule sticks pretty much to the same routine every week day. Part of that is due to my blood sugar, and most of the rest of the reason is the dog. Every morning, at about 7:20a, I take the dog for his first of three walks. It’s just a loop – around a large block that takes about twenty minutes or so.

I just got back into my house at 9:30a.

See, somehow, between locking the door and going on the loop and coming back, I lost the key. It’s a single key. It’s bright blue. It’s on a silver keychain. You’d think it would be easy to spot said key wherever it was I lost it on my walked loop, but after three extra loops, I could not find it. No problem, right? I have a cell phone, a husband with a key and car, and – failing that – a wallet with which to pay a locksmith, right?

Yeah. I’d gone walking the dog without wallet or cell phone. Luckily, a neighbour offered to let me use her cell (she was walking with her daughter) and…

My cell phone is smart. I am not. I didn’t actually know my husband’s work number. Also, his company isn’t listed in 411.

Happily, another neighbour was running by with her dog and she let me borrow her computer and sit in her house and wait while my husband came back. Because e-mailing my husband was the method that actually worked.

Good lord, I feel dumb.

Now, normally, on Wednesdays I talk about writing progress and stuff, and I’ll still do that, but I thought this might also be a good time to chat about genre a wee bit, because I see a metaphor here, and why not make fun of myself a bit more?

With Light, I locked myself out of a genre. Or a sub-genre. Or both? When I pitched the book, and wrote the book, and when Bold Strokes Books did all the amazing things publishers do, I talked about the telepathy and the telekinesis and the kinda-sorta mystery of what was happening, and knew I’d written a science fiction book (albeit a light, contemporary, more spec-fic than sci-fi kind of science fiction).

And at no point did I think to mention the romantic B-plot of my main character and the hunky leather man other than in the blurb as one of the many things the hero is trying to juggle while he’s saving the day.

It wasn’t until the awesome Ruth Sternglantz called me out on it that I realized what I’d done. I’d completely missed the opportunity to talk to romance readers who like their romance to have a big dash of science fiction mixed in, because in my head it was a science fiction book I’d written, that just happened to have a smaller sub-plot involving a romance.

Keep in mind, I worked in a bookstore for decades and I knew full well how important it is to walk people from one part of the store (say, Mystery) to another part of the store (say, Romance) and point out that the lines blur in a lot of books (say, Romantic Suspense) and that there’s likely books in sections they didn’t peruse that would be pretty fun for them to read.

So, yeah. Duh. When you write, take a second to really think about all the various categories your story touches. If there’s a romantic sub-plot, mention it. There are a lot of readers out there who love romance (it’s the best selling genre for a reason) and even if what you’ve written isn’t solely a romance, if there is indeed a romantic narrative included (a meet, a clash/breaking point, a coming-together/declaration, a resolution) then it might very well be you’ve got an audience among the romance readers.

In fact, quite a few reviews of Light said as much. I even had one review saying it was one of the more unique romance novels they’d read in a long time – which is awesome! I thought I was writing a science fiction book (and I was) but I was also writing a romance, and it turned out the chocolate and peanut butter effect is a good thing.

Anyway. Lesson learned.

Now back to my regularly scheduled update.

Writing Wednesday – where I hold myself to some public accountability on the whole writing thing (and also to share some Open Calls for Submission love).

The Novel:

Triad Blood continues to move along – I didn’t increase the word count a great deal since I’ve come back from Saints and Sinners, but that’s because I came back with a few dozen ideas about polishing some of the bits I’d already written. I don’t have a new word-count to post, but I’m going to guess I ended up somewhere stable as things came and went from what I’d already done and am still sitting around the 70%-draft mark. That said, I’m feel much better about the remaining 30% now.

Also, speaking of the whole genre thing, I’m trying to figure out exactly what genre this book will be. Because it’s not just urban fantasy, and I need to be conscious of that. The three guys are definitely in a relationship together, it’s definitely more smutty than Light was, so I’m going to have to really ponder whether or not I can call this erotica, too.

Short Stuff:

Awesome news! My Letter-to-my-16-year-old-self was accepted to go alongside the Glitterwolf Magazine issue on Identity. I’m very, very chuffed. Given that I also squeaked that in under the March deadline, it’s even better news. As for a short piece to submit for April, I’m aware I’m already one week into the month, and I’ve not done one yet.

Open Calls I Know About:

  • Fireside Magazine – Flash Fiction; deadline April 11th, 2015
  • Clockwork Canada Anthology – Steampunk Canadian anthology; deadline April 30th, 2015.
  • There – Short Gay Fiction, Chelsea Station; deadline May 1st, 2015.
  • Ink Stained Succubus – quite a few different calls, including M/f, F/m, M/M, and lots of different genre calls; earliest deadline is May 15th, 2015.
  • The Biggest Lover – Big-Boned Men’s Erotica for Chubs and Chasers; first draft June 1st, 2015; deadline July 1st, 2015.
  • Bi Guys – Firsthand Fiction for Bisexual Men and their Admirers; synopsis September 1st, 2015; deadline October 1st, 2015.
  • Other places to always check include the Lambda Literary Calls of Submission page.

    Heard of any good calls lately? Pop ’em in the comments.