I’m not sure exactly when Billy was born, but my mother will tell you I was three when she first became aware of him. I do remember that Billy was my best friend, and we did absolutely everything together. No matter where I went, or what I was doing, Billy was always right there beside me to share in the fun.
When I was sad, Billy held my hand. When I was happy, he laughed with me. He cheered at all of my T-ball games, checked under the bed for monsters, and reassured me when I was scared.
He was older than me, though I’m not sure precisely how much older, and Billy liked boys.
At the age of six when I began kindergarten, my mother sat me down and explained that Billy couldn’t go to school with me, and I definitely couldn’t say that he liked other boys. People wouldn’t understand. This was confusing, because to me, Billy was a real person. He wasn’t a figment of my imagination, but a real breathing person with thoughts and emotions. However, I took her advice—sort of.
Billy attended school with me, but he was invisible, and it was my job to protect his secret. If people found out about him, they’d try to make him leave, just like when my parents tried to convince me he wasn’t real.
“I can talk to Billy about anything, and I often do. I ask his opinion before I make big decisions, and he listens to me complain when I’m having a bad day.”
If you ask my family, they will tell you I had an imaginary friend until I was six. The truth is, imaginary or not, Billy never truly left me. The little boy is now a man, and while I can’t “see” him any longer, he’s taken up a permanent residency inside my head.
I can talk to Billy about anything, and I often do. I ask his opinion before I make big decisions, and he listens to me complain when I’m having a bad day. We argue, just like friends do, and usually it’s out loud. Since Billy is trapped inside my mind, I am his voice, the voice he needs to express himself. However, for anyone who’s ever witnessed our debates, they probably think I’m insane.
Thankfully, this is why I have Alejandro. This big Latin hunk moved in one day, found a place to settle somewhere in my frontal lobe, and just never left. He doesn’t pay rent, but he does keep Billy in line, and their romance is as humorous as it is sexy. Unfortunately, Alejandro is also voiceless, and he tries to push his way into the world through my words as well.
Billy, however, tends to be a bit more…materialistic. For anyone who talks to me for more than five minutes, it becomes pretty obvious that I’m a tomboy. Shopping, getting my nails done, curling my hair, or painting my face—those are things I struggle with daily. Billy helps, however, so I can at least understand the joys of such things as lip gloss, even if I don’t actively participate.
Needless to say, it gets pretty crowded in my head sometimes, especially when everyone is trying to talk over each other. At any given time, there can be as many as six separate thoughts occurring at once. More times than not, these thoughts become discussions, and these debates are articulated aloud. Just yesterday, my husband walked into the laundry room where I was folding clothes, stopped, and blinked at me several times before shaking his head and leaving. Why? I was discussing a plot with my two tenants—out loud—acting as both of their voices, as well as arguing my own point of view.
As you may have guessed by now, combined, Billy and Alejandro make up my Muse. While I’m engaged in everyday life, going about my chores and errands, it’s this couple who observes all the things I miss and tell me about them later, emphasizing which parts of the day could produce a great story.
“Alejandro is my harshest critic, always encouraging me to push my limits and improve. Billy just thinks I need to write more kinky sex.”
Being the eyes, ears, and inspiration to a scatterbrained—and possibly slightly neurotic—author isn’t their only job, though. They also hold casting calls, handpicking the perfect heroes with the most compelling stories and delivering them to me with a shiny red bow. I’ve read a ton of books and articles on character development. They always leave me a bit confused, because I don’t necessarily “develop” my characters, just as I don’t fabricate anyone else’s personality. My characters come to me fully formed, as real as you or me, with all their quirks and idiosyncrasies.
The boys act as my sounding board, informing me rather loudly when I’m getting off track. Alejandro is my harshest critic, always encouraging me to push my limits and improve. Billy just thinks I need to write more kinky sex.
Just as I have grown and evolved as a person and writer, so have my Muses. However, I didn’t “turn” them gay to suit my needs. Even as a child, I was very aware of the world around me, and have always been taught to embrace differences rather than condemn them. The idea that my imaginary friend liked boys, even far beyond the age when girls stopped having cooties, seemed completely natural to me. In retrospect, Billy is likely the reason I’ve always had more male friends than female friends. Apparently, he never outgrew the cootie phase, but he tolerates me, so I guess that’s something.
The day I discovered ManLove romance, there were bright lights and harp-playing cherubs. Okay, not literally, but there should have been. Here was a group of likeminded people, men and women who loved and supported the same things I did. Why didn’t I know about all of these amazing books and authors before? Why wasn’t everyone talking about this?
The ManLove community became my haven, a place to celebrate love of all types without fear or judgment. Finding this niche, a place I could be comfortably me, caused an explosion of my imagination. My dear Muses beat their chests, screaming ideas at me around the clock until I wanted to pull out my hair. I couldn’t write ManLove, though. Were they insane? I’m not a gay man, and I certainly didn’t feel qualified.
“Everyone reacts differently in any given situation, but at the core, emotions—especially love—do not recognize the limitations of gender.”
The more books I devoured, however, the more I began to realize I wasn’t the only woman reading these stories. I also discovered a plethora of women who wrote these tales I cherished so much. No one pointed a finger at them. Readers didn’t cry out in protest. Instead, they praised these ladies for their talent rather than focusing on the gender of the person behind the keyboard.
And suddenly, it made sense. I could write M/M romance. No, I didn’t spontaneously grow a penis, but I am and have always been a human being. Everyone reacts differently in any given situation, but at the core, emotions—especially love—do not recognize the limitations of gender. These women were proving that every day, and doing it with realistic portrayals rather than social stereotypes.
The journey from arguing with my imaginary gay friend to this eye-opening revelation, and eventually, on to how I came to be an author is a tale for another day.
Today, I want to take just a moment to express my gratitude.
Thank you to those first men and women who pioneered the way. I’m sure most of them don’t consider what they did as brave, but in a time when ManLove wasn’t as widely accepted, it took courage to stand up and be recognized for their art. Thank you to the authors who came after and kept pushing for more.
For publishers, selling M/M romance when it wasn’t popular was a business risk, but they took a chance, giving these authors homes for their voices. So, thank you to these publishers who opened their proverbial doors to ManLove, supported their authors, and promoted the genre.
Finally, the most important recognition of all—one that leaves me profoundly grateful every day. Thank you to the growing ManLove fan base. Without the support of readers, none of us would be able to wake up each day and do a job we love. Doors will only open so far if they’re blocked from the other side, but M/M fans have broken down these doors and chopped them into firewood.
As for me and my Muses, we’ll keep working to improve, learning where we can, and evolving where necessary to keep moving forward. As authors and readers know, every story has a beginning, middle, and end, and we’re all headed in the same direction, one chapter at a time.
By Gabrielle Evans