My love for romance novels started sometime during the teen years. Other than combat boots, too much makeup, and lots of black clothing, a large part of those angst-filled years is a blur except for one thing, the novels I enjoyed reading. From Jane Austen to the latest Harlequin novel, I consumed book after book. Thinking back, if I counted fairy tales then maybe my attraction to romantic tales started before my teenage years.
During high school, I was a member of the drama club. I hated being in the spotlight but still wanted to entertain an audience. With two conflicting goals—entertain, but don’t stand out— it became difficult to find a balance between the two. Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of parts, and the ones I did get had little or no lines.
“As the class moved toward the halfway point, a spark of light appeared inside the dark tunnel.”
Satisfaction wasn’t there, nor was there disappointment. I craved something unknown. Knowing at least that, I wasn’t going to let my lackluster performances stop me from finding what was missing, so the following year, I enrolled in the school’s drama class.
Almost instantly, I wanted out. The class was nothing like what my mind imagined. We didn’t perform scenes, discuss plays, or study acting techniques. No, we spent most of the time talking to each other, and none of our conversations revolved around the class. Drama turned into an unplanned study hall with a teacher absent three out of five days a week.
As the class moved toward the halfway point, a spark of light appeared inside the dark tunnel. The midterm crept closer. The assignment was one hurdle toward the exit. Get through this, then a final, and move on. I had already given up trying to learn. My reasons for taking the class were forgotten. Nothing else mattered but the end. Then everything changed. The teacher read the midterm assignment—write your own monologue.
I toyed with it, creating draft after draft featuring new characters. The monologues ranged from comedy to tragedy and everything in between. From clown to murderer, I tried everything. The assigned minute wasn’t enough time for my character to speak. The pages flew as I experimented with different ideas. Then a lightbulb clicked inside my head. While the actual click didn’t happen, the monumental discovery shaped my life. I wanted to write the stories, create the characters, and plan the scenes not perform them. For the first time, I wanted to be a writer.
At the time, writing wasn’t something I liked to do. Frankly, I wasn’t very good at it. Even now, when reading early journals, I clearly see the sentence fragments, comma splices, poorly formed ideas, and unstructured stories, but everyone was encouraging. They cooed over my sappy love stories. Still I had doubts. After all, they liked my cooking, too.
“While visiting different boards, I found a story with a Kirk/Spock pairing. Searching through other sites, I discovered that some of my favorite male characters were having sex with each other.”
In the end, I stuck with writing. In college, I met someone who wrote fan fiction—fiction written by fans casting already existing characters into new stories. I knew the term, but never met anyone who confessed to writing it. She introduced me to a whole new online community. Being able to connect to others shaped and improved my writing. In creative writing class, I learned techniques, style of writing, omniscient narration, but writing fan fiction I created fun situations for my favorite characters from movies and television shows. I shared stories with people all over the world who enjoyed the same programs and characters. Others kindly and some not so kindly pointed out poorly developed plots, grammar mistakes, and characters that were out of character. I practiced and learned techniques that worked and didn’t work thanks to online comments.
Then it happened— another monumental discovery that drastically shaped my life as a writer. One day I stumbled upon male/male romance. While visiting different boards, I found a story with a Kirk/Spock pairing. Searching through other sites, I discovered that some of my favorite male characters were having sex with each other.
At first, it was shocking, but intriguing. I never saw any of these characters as couples. I didn’t rush in and read the stories that day. Honestly, I wasn’t ready, but the idea stayed with me. My imagination started to play with the notion of Kirk and Spock being more than friends. One day, I finally sat down and started to read the stories.
Quite a few were horrible, but others were good. Some fan fiction authors made a convincing argument through their writing. The Kirk/Spock couple started to make sense. Soon I believed in the possibility of a Kirk/Spock relationship. I saw Star Trek and many other shows in a new light. It took only a few stories before I was hooked on slash fanfics—fan-written stories that focus on relationships and sexual encounters between same-sex, fictional characters.
“Along the way something happened. I don’t know when it happened, but reading ManLove novels changed me.”
Soon I was ready for a new kind of romance story. The Internet helped me track down authors and publishing companies creating books that focused on male/male couples. Moving beyond slash fanfics, I found talented writers and new stories with believable characters and riveting plots. I wanted to read book after book, and these authors inspired me to create and share stories.
Along the way something happened. I don’t know when it happened, but reading ManLove novels changed me. I started to become more open to nontraditional couples and an advocate for love regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. Today, I listen and support my friend when he talks about the previous weekend with his boyfriend. We are honest and have the conversations he can’t have with his semi-supportive family. I was there for my cousin when she peeked out from inside the closet and I held her hand and helped her through the door. After all, love is love. It’s beautiful. It’s unexpected. All couples have problems, they fight, they connect and reconnect, and they have sex.
Every reader and writer of ManLove books traveled a similar road that started with an initial discovery, the first step into a new genre of books that were previously uncharted. Maybe it was an accidental encounter on the Internet, a recommendation from a friend, or something else. Thinking of the books I’m writing, outlining, or reading, I whisper a silent thanks to the small unexpected discoveries that have made me a writer and, hopefully, a more accepting person.
By Sydney Lain