As I was reading a story a few days ago with the same theme as the last 10 books I had read recently, it struck me that other readers must have noticed this trend as well. There doesn’t seem to be any imagination left in this sub genre which is surprising, as it’s really only been around in its current form since about 2003. In less than a decade we are being fed retreads – what will happen in 20 years? Many authors are using the same tried and true tropes to the point where readers are heartily sick of them, and each book reads just like the one we read yesterday or the day before…… Sometimes I feel like I’m reliving Groundhog Day, the wacky 1993 movie starring Bill Murray as a weatherman who falls into a time warp and relives the same 24 hours over and over again until he gets it right. I love our authors but there are about 8 or 9 themes that are constantly recycled by some of them. How many times have you read books with these themes?
Theme #1: The Big Misunderstanding. This is where one protagonist has a big secret that affects their relationship in a material way, but he does not share it with his lover and this creates an impasse, leading to a separation of days/weeks/months/years/decades. Eventually they reunite and there’s an HEA. In the intervening period of time they may have other lovers (or not) but THEY DO NOT COMMUNICATE with each other because that would be WRONG. Don’t guys talk in RL? Why are so many gay men incapable of simple communication in books?
Theme #2 – Homophobic Society=Runaway Teens = hookers : Protagonist no. 1 (a teen) runs away from home because of pressure from parents/church/community/bullies and ends up on the streets selling his body. How else can he take care of himself ? Jobs like bus boys are too difficult to find, so whoring himself to all and sundry is the only way to go apparently. Eventually he meets Protagonist No. 2, usually an older man, who loves him despite his past and they live happily ever after. Of course there are teenage runaways in RL and a few of them end up as hookers, but in M/M romances they almost always end up as hookers.
Theme #3 – Gay For You: I must admit I like this theme but only when it makes sense. Here a straight man falls for a gay man and they live happily ever after. Ask any gay man who has fallen for his straight friend about the likely outcome – the happy ever after NEVER HAPPENS. As one blogger (Angela) said in a comment on the site on Sunday when I raised the issue of recycled tropes in M/M, if it were that easy then the churches/parents that are determined to “drive the gay out of every gay teen” are right, because if GFY is possible the churches can just as easily turn someone who is gay straight. Now if the GFY plot had a protagonist living on the down low that would make sense, but for a totally straight man who never had any desire to have sex with another man to suddenly fall for a guy, and they live happily ever after? Cue the violins. 🙂 Marie Sexton suggested that the books should differentiate between GFY and those with closeted gay men who find that one gay man that makes them come out of the closet which should be called Out for You. 🙂 I think she has something that makes sense here.
Theme #4 – Stalkers: How many more stories about stalkers do we have to endure? Isn’t it time to put a fork in this theme? Because I love mysteries and murder most foul maybe I read more books with this trope, but even in the mystery genre I would expect authors to put more thought into their plots and offer us some variety. For all I know there may be a stalker outside my door right now because I sneaked ahead of him in the line at the grocery store. (See how ridiculous this is?) In M/M there is a stalker around almost every corner. Run and hide. lol.
Theme #5 – Insta-Love: How many books have you read recently about a couple falling instantly in love the minute they meet? I can buy this in paranormal books where the mating frenzy takes precedence over anything else, but in contemporary romances it’s more than a bit of a stretch. How about the guys meet, get to know each other and find out if their potential mate is a serial killer BEFORE jumping into bed and swearing everlasting love?
Theme #6 – Rape: I did a post a few weeks ago about extreme plots involving violent themes. The most prevalent violent theme in M/M is rape. Why are gay men being raped at every turn in our books which are supposed to be romances? If I want to read about men being raped about every three minutes I would not read gay romances. Do gay men deserve to be raped in books because some readers enjoy reading about it? As for what is euphemistically called “non con,” that is also rape. If it’s not consensual, it’s rape. Non con creates the impression that it’s okay to force a man to have sex because if a gun or knife or other weapon isn’t held to his head, or if he isn’t tied up, ‘no’ mean’s ‘yes.’ I know that some readers love non con, but can the rest of us have a few books without rape in all its forms?
Theme #7: – Kidnappings. Another favourite of M/M authors. No doubt kidnappings happen in the real world but our authors have multiplied the percentage, going by the numbers of books with this theme.
Theme #8 – In historical books all gay men are hanged or imprisoned if caught. Whoa! How many times can an author use this trope in historical M/M books without readers getting sick and tired of it? Can authors not use this theme 98% of the time? I understand that authenticity is important in historical books but when I read a historical ‘romance’ I expect a romance, so can we de-emphasize the ‘horrible consequences if caught’ ? Let’s have authors give the readers a real romance with a HFN. Don’t call it a romance unless it is – call it something else. Not all historical writers do this and I’ve always liked Alex Beecroft’s, Charlie Cochrane’s and Lee Rowan’s approach to these stories because at least their books are romances and de-emphasize the hangings.
Theme #9 – Cops = Extreme Homophobia: We know that the ‘boys in blue’ are not exactly kind to their gay ‘brothers’ who are out, but it would be nice if most of the stories about gay cops are not almost exclusively focused on homophobia in the forces and the gay cops who are barely tolerated while doing their jobs. There’s no doubt that homophobia exists in this male bastion of testosterone, but most readers read romances to escape from RL. Let’s not shove unpleasant facts constantly in readers’ faces – that’s what the 6 o’clock news and the local newspapers are for.
Some themes are not as overused as others and a few readers may not notice them as much as I do, especially if you are new to M/M, but give yourself a year or 2.
I understand that there is not a lot that is original in any genre but some authors manage to take an old trope and turn it into something delightful and a joy to read. That is called writing! The reason we buy different books is because we expect them to be different. If I wanted to read the same story over and over I would re-read my old books and not waste my money buying carbon copies. When I first started reading gay romances they were new and different and the plots and characters were exciting. Case in point: In almost a decade since Chris Owen released Bareback and 9-1-1 these books are garnering new fans every day because she wasn’t a copy cat. Some readers may not like the themes of cheating and multiple partners, but the books were well written, fresh, different, and the characters were unforgettable.
There’s much to be celebrated in this sub genre and I’m not dumping on M/M authors, I just want them to strive for excellence. There is hope with brand new writers like Harper Fox who shows incredible range and imagination in her plots and has written some excellent books so far but we need other authors, seasoned and new, to step up.
Here are a few books that I loved: Almost Like Being In Love by Steve Kluger released in 2004 and A Bit of Rough that Laura Baumbach wrote in 2005. The Adrien English Mysteries released by Josh Lanyon over a decade ago which ended in 2009. How about the delightful Coda series by Marie Sexton or M.L. Rhodes’ wonderful paranormal series The Draegan Lords? JL Langley’s Sci Regency or With or Without series? Jordan Castillo Prices’s Psycop series? Tigers and Devils by Sean Kennedy? Ally Blue wrote the Bay City Paranormal Investigations series that was original, scary and entertaining. Similarly, Clare London always offers her readers fresh themes and doesn’t recycle the old tropes. These are just a few examples of great books or authors who give readers thrills and chills, and there are many more like them out there, but when we finish reading all the recommendations from other M/M readers what on earth are we going to do? I could go on about the M/M books that I really love, but my point is that a few M/M writers are writing memorable books and the others are taking a pass. If this continues, the core readership of this sub genre will find something else to occupy their spare time.
A few more from my list of books that were and still are a pleasure to read:
A Note in the Margin – Isabelle Rowan
Dangerous Ground series – Josh Lanyon
Cut & Run/Sticks & Stones/Fish & Chips – Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux
Untamed Heart – Ally Blue
The Mercenary’s Tale – Lynn Lorenz
Zero at the Bone – Jane Seville
The Deadly series – Victor J Banis
Snowball in Hell – Josh Lanyon
Faith & Fidelity – Tere Michael
Mexican Heat – Josh Lanyon and Laura Baumbach
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Lynn Lorenz
Fire Season – Lex Valentine
Mind Fuck – Manna Francis
Sno Ho/Life in Fusion – Ethan Day
Promises/A to Z/The Letter Z/Strawberries for Dessert – Marie Sexton
Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale
The earlier M/M books were trailblazers but new authors can blaze their own trails if they do the work. Obviously it’s tougher to come up with something new for every book, but writers should respect their readers and not serve up the same diet every day. On the other hand I have to give kudos to our paranormal and fantasy writers because their plots and their world building are outstanding.
Who are your favourite authors who write books that are fresh and exciting that make you want to stay in bed all day under the covers and just live in their worlds? I gave you a few recs – what are yours?