Has Imagination Deserted M/M Authors?

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?

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

178 comments

  • I think there’s a rising problem with authors copying film ideas. I think I’ve read four books that have sounded eerily similar to films I’ve watched before. I don’t know if anyone else has come across this problem but its beginning to feel a lot like plagiarism, the only difference is that these characters are portrayed as gay.

    Reply
    • Oh the fanfic favourite. Rip off a film script, bung in a couple of gay characters and everyone falls about telling you how wonderful your story is.

      Yes, this makes me very growly.

      Reply
    • Hi Loretta
      You’re absolutely correct. More and more you’ll see authors employing this strategy as their idea cup runs dry.

      I hope that the producers and people who write film scripts start sitting up and taking notice and maybe sue a few of them, to stop this practice

      Reply
  • Hi, Wave,
    I enjoyed your post. If you’re still looking for books that don’t use the themes you’ve listed as a basis for the story, I’d be happy to send you anything of mine.=D

    Reply
    • Hi Mara
      Thanks for commenting. It seems that despite getting beat up and a bit bruised by some of the commenters, a lot of M/M authors seem quite positive about the post. I admit I was a bit frustrated when I wrote it because I had read so many books that were totally devoid of what makes M/M such a vibrant sub genre.

      I have read your books and you know I love them – you’re not one of the writers I’m talking about here. lol.

      Reply
      • I honestly didn’t know you’d read them. Thank you, Wave.
        I’m not surprised you’ve received a positive response to this post. Authors are invested in making m/m a vibrant sub genre, and if readers aren’t happy for one reason or another, we want to know. A post like this can only benefit the genre, in the long run.

        Reply
        • Mara

          I hope you’re right that authors look at the post as a positive thing. It’s easy to get into making the same mistake over and over again without realizing it.

          I love your books especially the characterizations. 🙂

          Reply
  • I read between 10 and 15 M/M books a month and there are certain authors or books I avoid since they tend to go crazy with the tropes you mention in this post. So, I can’t even imagine what it must be like for you as well as for the rest of the reviewers. *hugs the lot of you*

    FWIW, I’m a total sucker for a good GFY story and, like you pointed out, Lee Rowan and Alex Beecroft write historical M/M that are a sheer pleasure to read.

    While I believe that there is some truth in the (rather cynical) idea of “there only being 5 original plots from which all stories are derived from”, I absolutely believe that a talented writer (be in any of the M/M romance genres) will make me believe whatever he or she has written. No matter how many GFY, Historical or whatever books I’ve read before.

    So, to me, this frustrating redundancy has to do with the glut on the market of writers who either need to work on their craft some more before they’re published OR writers who simply lack the talent to weave an interesting/charming story.

    Reply
    • Hi Luce
      You make some excellent points about the tropes and the glut of authors now entering M/M. I have been reading this sub genre way before it was officially a “romance” sub genre – way back to the days of The Charioteer by Mary Renault. Now it seems as if anyone who thinks she can be a writer is published within a few weeks/months. All she has to do is find a publisher and a lot of the newer ones are not at all concerned about the product – they just want to push more product at the readers. Unfortunately there’s a dearth of good editors because, with the growth of M/M as well as other romance sub genres, all the best talent is already taken so many books are scarcely edited, if at all.

      If I didn’t care about this sub genre I would just take what’s published and not say anything about the quality.

      Thanks for commenting Luce.

      Reply
      • All she has to do is find a publisher and a lot of the newer ones are not at all concerned about the product – they just want to push more product at the readers.

        *nods* With the rise of ereaders and tablets and ereading programs, the glut will keep expanding ever so more. >:(

        OTOH, it’s a good thing that now we’ve got so many choices as far as to what we can use to read all the ebooks. Plus, the popularity of ebooks have added a certain patina of legitimacy to often-mocked genres such as romance.

        Unfortunately, like you said, there are so many authors (some who are real writers and some who should be kept from ever trying to write a story) that it can take some skill to find a gem to read.

        If I didn’t care about this sub genre I would just take what’s published and not say anything about the quality.

        Thankfully, you DO care about this genre. I have to admit that I was wary of this genre after surfing over to a few so-called “review” sites that were nothing but vanity posts. I mean, there’s no way I can trust a site that gives nothing lower than 4 stars to every book that’s reviewed. That’s beyond ridiculous. That’s outright insulting to the readers (for trying to make them think that there aren’t any bad, i.e. poorly written M/M books) as well as to the authors (seriously, there are plenty of duds out there.) Remember when I said that I had hated an M/M written by Roxy Harte? A ‘vanity’ site had given it a stellar review. Which, looking back makes me think that either the person hadn’t read the same book that I did OR that the person has really baaaaad taste. But I digress . . .

        Anyhoo, if it wasn’t for your site and about three more, I wouldn’t have become a fan of the genre.

        Reply
  • I had to laugh-I am one of the five people who didn’t see this post because I was out of town all weekend! Great post and wonderful insight. Hopefully the guilty authors will recognize their writing style, take note, and give their readers something worth reading :-).

    Reply
    • Hi Kathy
      You missed all the fun and jumping into the fray to skin me alive because I dared criticize some of the M/M tropes. I usually go where many fear to tread and sometimes I get singed but I’m like the phoenix.

      I’m looking forward to better books that make the authors proud.

      Reply
  • I hate to jump in here but I’ve been thinking about one point- the novella and short story form. I don’t see this form as a quickie novel, or an author rushing to get a story out there. These shorter forms, which I love to read and write, have the possibility of being spare and delicate, in the way a novel can’t; with a smaller idea, and careful, clean writing, I thing the novella form is the most beautiful. One of the things I love the most is the way the form leaves some mystery. A good story is finished in the reader’s mind, and for me, the novella and short story forms really shine with potential. So many novels I’ve read, I thought, the author could have easily cut 100 pages of fluff- but it wasn’t cost effective to make a paper and ink book of only 50 pages. We don’t have that problem anymore. So for those of us who really love the spare and quiet quality of the novella, I vote for more! I would encourage everyone to read them as the unique form they are, not as a mini novel.

    Reply
    • This is an interesting point. Because I like reading shorter stories which have become much more prevalent recently due to the e-format. And I don’t think all of them are novels-cut-short, either.

      But actually my complaint is that because e-short-stories are financial viable and presumably selling well (or else they would have died out by now), the traditional “proper” novel seems to be in danger of becoming a rarity which I think is a real shame. Am I the only reader to want to read real stories with proper plots and properly developed characters?

      Reply
      • Liade
        I don’t think there’s much danger in novels going out of style. There too many readers like yourself that love them and as long as there’s the demand authors will write them and publishers will release them. However, as I said to Sarah, sometimes I feel that close to 50 – 100 pages of a novel is padding for the word count. I love both formats and a well written novella is a joy to read as well.

        Reply
      • I think you can have a novella with proper plots and properly developed characters; what changes is probably the amount of time the story covers. A sucessful shorter story can develop in depth an afternoon, or a week in the character’s lives, where a novel is needed to properly explore the changes that occur over long periods of time. The shorter time frame also means that problems are more immediate, or you can deal with a single part of a larger problem. I think the form, and the way you read, is different. It’s like holding a single perfect peach in your hand, compared to the novel’s peach orchard. But then, people who write flash fiction of 100 words, the drabble, think stories of 1000 words just go on and on and on, and need a sharp editor!

        Reply
        • I should add that the time thing isn’t a rule, of course, but a generalization; we all know about Ulysses! But good grief, that man does go on and on.

          Reply
    • Sarah I just wanted to say that I would have been reading more novellas if they all had been as good as yours and do not get me started on short stories :). Obviously I have read some good and some great ones by different authors, but way too often I had been dissapointed and when I was done with the novella, I was thinking eh, this one needs at least another hundred pages to give the characters and plot proper development and closure. Am I making sense? It often feels that writer tries to bite more than she can chew when writing a novella and give it some grandeur scope when to me it should not happen.

      When I am reading Josh Lanyon’s novellas I always think that the character development and plot exactly fits the page number too, but more often than not for the reason I tried to articulate above I am choosing longer books, unless I know that writer is capable of writing shorter works to my satisfaction 🙂

      With short stories I have had even worse experience, I am not sure I will need the fingers on my both hands to count short stories that impressed me during roughly four years I had been reading m/m. This is just my personal experience of course.

      Reply
      • thanks for the nice compliment. I do love the shorter form. I think it’s a nice compliment, too, for a writer of short form stories, to have someone like the characters enough they want to know them more. They want more time with them.

        Of course a reader shouldn’t come to the end of the story and feel confused by the character’s motivation, or worse, feel that they don’t make any sense, that their actions don’t match up with their motivations. I just finished a mystery, the first in what will no doubt be a long series, and at the end, I thought, who the heck is this guy? I didn’t feel like I knew him at all, and I wanted to look inside his heart.

        Well, I’ll have to see if I can do anything about the current level of dissapointment with short stories.

        Reply
    • Hi Sarah

      Thank you for commenting.

      I love both formats and while I can’t wait to get my teeth into a novel, many novellas in the hands of the right author, are equally satisfying. I even love the shorts 5 – 10K. Not many authors can do this well but when they do the stories are dynamite.

      I agree that many stories could easily lose 100 pages and some of those are the ones with a theme of The Big Misunderstanding where the protagonists don’t talk to each other for 100 or more pages and each one goes on with his life until about time for the last 20 pages and the big HEA. I think a lot of books with this plot are manipulative and probably are used to fatten the word count. But that’s just me.

      Reply
      • I wrote one of these- a novella with a misunderstadning as the major conflict- and have been feeling guilty about it all weekend! (But I still like that story.)Will have to try harder on the next!

        Thanks for all you do. I picture you with a big stick and one of those bee-hats, with net over your face, marching off to deal with the hornet’s nest!

        Reply
        • Sarah

          I don’t have a big stick or a bee hat with a net over my face 🙂 but I really care about M/M and when I see authors not giving of their best it upsets me. Sometimes when I’m frustrated I’m too blunt but I have never been one to speak with a forked tongue – I say what I mean – not one thing on the site and something else in emails.

          Thanks very much for commenting Sarah and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to this comment. Damn! I must have pissed off a lot of people. lol.

          Reply
  • I think I’m still too new to the whole M/M genre to notice the repeats.

    Wave, I must have really great taste in books because I am so in agreement with your list, having read about half of those mentioned.

    Having been a reader since I was knee high to a grasshopper, I mostly read M/F romance novels, and was getting so tired of the typical girl gets in trouble, boy rescues girl, boy and girl live happily ever after.

    Bareback was the second M/M book I ever read, and I’m just now learning that Chris Owens is a female!! The very first M/M book I ever read was Cut & Run, and I was totally hooked. I thought to myself. If all the books in this genre are just half as good as this book, then I’m a fan for like. So far, I haven’t been disappointed too many times.

    Reply
    • Hi Hope
      You have been very lucky in your choice of books. The ones you mention are all great reads. I’m talking in the post about “the rest” which are a motley bunch, ranging from good to “should never have been published.”

      Reviewers read many books that you will never see because when we write our reviews you take one look at them and decide to pass. That’s why our job is so tough. As someone said a couple of days ago, reviewers skim the milk and the cream rises to the top leaving the sour residue behind. 🙂 But when we find a gem we love to tell everyone. :

      Reply
  • Another theme that is so over done is the hot highschool quaterback (or a hot popular guy) always falling for the nerdy guy. I can’t count the number of stories that I read, both online and published, with this theme.

    Reply
    • Hi Brandon
      Thank you for commenting.

      You’re so right. I had forgotten about this theme which is all M/M since het wouldn’t have it as part of their old tropes. 🙂

      Of course the quarterback would only fall for the nerd – another variation of the “opposites attract” theme. lol

      Reply

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