Smexy writer Marie Sexton graciously agreed to be my first victim—er, interview subject—on the blog. I barely let her get a word in edgewise, but she managed to give me some really interesting answers all the same. Marie's latest m/m erotic romance, Paris A to Z, hits the virtual shelves today at Dreamspinner Press. Zach Mitchell and his lover Angelo Green are headed to Paris (along with their Coda friends Matt and Jared) to attend Jon and Cole’s wedding. Matt will have to face Jared’s former lover, and Angelo will have to spend an entire week with Zach’s ex-boyfriend. Between Matt’s jealousy and Angelo’s temper, Zach thinks they’ll be lucky to get through the week without one of the grooms being punched. But Zach soon realizes he should worry less about Angelo and more about himself. Facing the bittersweet memories of his past and his own guilt over breaking Jon’s heart is harder than expected, but Zach will have to find a way to leave his past behind if he’s to have any hope of the future he wants with Angelo.
So, Marie, you write m/m erotic romance. Before I had the pleasure of meeting you and reading your books, I'd never heard of this genre classification. It seems a few years ago, it was just called "gay" romance/erotica—Cleis Press's Best Gay Erotica series, for example, is still quite popular, as well as a number of gay romance titles—and was, as far as I know, written largely by men for men.
I see "m/m" as a new genre that seems to be dominated by women, both writers and readers. Would you say that's true? Why do you think this came about?
I think this is a convergence of three things (bearing in mind that I do not claim to be an expert on much of anything). First, the stories you're referring to, written mostly by gay men, for gay men. Second, the explosion of slash fanfic being written by women online. Third, the sudden boom of the epublishing world. With its low overhead, it's perfect for niche genres. Those three things collided and birthed this genre that is now growing like crazy.
Ah, I sort of skipped over the whole slash fiction thing. Love the idea (Kirk/Spock was one of my earliest fantasies!), frightened of the execution. ;) But now that you mention it, it makes a lot of sense that slash would have played a part.
Do you think there's a difference between m/m erotica written with gay male audiences in mind such as Cleis's books versus the kind of m/m that's become so popular in the epublishing world? Or do you think it's just reaching a wider audience with the advent of epublishing?
Well, that's tough. First, there's gay literature, and then there's gay romance and/or erotica. And those are definitely different. But as far as gay romance or erotica: is what's written by and for men different than what's written by and for women? Some people say yes. Some people say no. One of the things that's often pointed out is that women concentrate too much on romance and not enough on sex, and I can sort of see that. But I think that's a symptom of the romance genre (vs. erotica or out-and-out porn). I don't think it really has that much to do with the gender of the writer.
I've also had people say to me, "I can read any m/m sex scene and tell you whether it was written by a man or a woman." But as soon as I question how, I get a load of bullshit in return. "Straight women always forget the lube!" Um, no we don't. Some maybe, but not all, because most of us writing about anal sex have actually HAD anal sex, believe it or not. And we use lube, too. "Gay men would never forget the refractory period!" Oh yeah? I could point out exceptions to that, too, by a very popular male author in the genre. Again, I think it's a trait of the romance genre in general, not a result of the author's gender. Now, I do understand that some women have written some m/m sex scenes that are just downright unrealistic (a tongue reaching the prostate?), but for the most part, I think people who claim that what ALL women write is somehow different from what ALL men write are kidding themselves. There are good writers, and there are bad writers, on both sides.
On an interesting side note, Cleis put out an anthology edited by sexologist and writer Carol Queen some years back called Switch Hitters: Lesbians Write Gay Male Erotica and Gay Men Write Lesbian Erotica, showcasing just how hot it can be when writers switch sides. :)
Speaking of lesbian erotica, I haven't seen a lot of f/f erotic romance among the epublishers alongside the m/m. I know it's not your area of interest, but do you think publishers are open to it and just aren't receiving submissions? Or do you think there isn't enough of an audience for it? I guess what I'm getting at is this: what is it about m/m erotic romance that makes it so popular and why has it taken off the way it has when its logical f/f counterpart has not?
That's a good question, and I'm not sure I know the answer, but I'll venture a guess. Some publishers are open to f/f, but I don't think the market for it is anywhere near as big as the market for m/m. I think a huge number of the women reading m/m either a) were reading het romance initially and grew weary of the perfect heroines who nobody can relate to, and/or b) they have serious issues with the sexual roles that women are shoved into in het sexual relations. But in either case, I think the majority of them are straight, and so the idea of reading about two women getting down and dirty together just isn't very appealing. But somehow, when it's two men? Damn! That's HOT, and as a female reader, I don't have to worry about whether I live up to that character, and I can forget the infuriating sexual politics of m/f (which I deal with every single day, so why would I want to read about it, too?).
That's an interesting point. I hadn't thought about why straight women might be drawn to m/m other than, Damn! That's HOT! ;) (The straight male equivalent, of course, has been a cliché for a long time...and they're not exactly looking for stories about love between two women, are they?)
We've talked before about the backlash you sometimes get for being a woman writing about men, criticism from people who think you can't possibly know what it's like to be a gay man and so therefore have no business writing about them. But it seems to me that if writers only wrote about people exactly like them it wouldn't be very interesting—and it wouldn't be fiction. Where do you think this backlash comes from? Is it readers who are unhappy with what's being published, or writers who feel like you're "horning in" on their turf? Do you think it has any validity?
I don't think it comes from readers at all. I've only ever seen this backlash coming from male authors. Now, I don't mean ALL male authors, by any means. Not even close. MOST of them are amazing and friendly and open and very gracious about sharing their genre with us. Most of them say that what really matters is the quality of the story, not the gender of the author. But there seem to be a very select few who really resent females for writing m/m.
Is it valid? Well, I'm not going to try to tell anybody that what they're feeling is invalid. But what I think gets missed is that none of us women are saying that we know exactly what it's like to be a gay man. Of course we don't! I don't even know exactly what it's like to be the straight white woman who lives right next door to me. I would never claim to know exactly what ANY other person is feeling. But I'm not writing gay literature. I'm writing romance, and romance is about falling in love. And I think love is much bigger than any label. I had somebody say, "What gives you the right to speak for us?" and my answer is, "Nothing." I don't claim to speak FOR gay men. I don't claim to speak for anybody other than myself - not gay men, not Coloradoans, not straight women, not soccer moms. Nobody. I'm writing a romance, not a manifesto. It's a story about love. That's all.
And the world needs more stories about love. The more the merrier, I say.
I've seen similar comments from men who feel discriminated against in the women's romance genres and complain that they have to write under a female pseudonym to get published. There aren't a whole lot of interesting careers where women dominate the playing field, so while I can understand their frustration, it frustrates me a bit in turn to hear complaints of "reverse discrimination." Plenty of women have had to write under a male pseudonym in the past to get where we are today. (And still do, if they want to be taken seriously in male-dominated genres like hard SF and thrillers.) Do you think misogyny plays a part in the criticism you've faced?
In some cases, I think that's all it boils down to, but not all. There are a lot of other issues involved: are we fetishizing gays, are we representing them fairly and accurately, are we helping or hurting their progress for equal and fair treatment, are we trying to speak for them? Those are all valid issues, and they're all complicated issues. I won't try to answer them all here. All I can really say is, we are not the enemy. We're really not.
I think you do an amazing job of putting yourself as a writer, and us as readers, into the minds and hearts—and bodies!—of men who love men. Do you think you may have been a gay man in a past life?
I have wondered. More than once.
Would you ever consider dressing in male drag? (OMG, HAWT!) How about just for me? ;)
Haha! Wow. Well, I've never thought about it, to be honest. Would that be hot? I don't think I could pull it off.
Girls in boy drag are always hot, passing or not. I could definitely see you with a Marlene Dietrich look.
(Slightly) more seriously, have you ever tried to pass and sneak into a men's club for research? I've seen some very feminine women do a good job of passing. Let me know if you want to come visit me in San Francisco and give it a try. We could drag (some pun intended) erotica writer Daisy Harris along; she says she needs to do some research.
I haven't ever tried to pass. When I was in college, we went dancing at the gay club all the time. It was hands-down the best club in town. But I haven't been there in YEARS. [Author] Heidi [Cullinan] and I did go to some gay clubs in Austin last October. I'd love to check out some San Fran hotspots, but I'd be way too paranoid to try to pass for a guy.
(For the record, I suspect you and I and Daisy could get into a lot of trouble together!)
I'm quite sure we could.
While we're on the subject of hot boys in clubs, I adore your character Angelo in the A to Z books.
(Big kiss for that!)
Awww. ~blush~ (Marie Sexton kissed me!) ;D
You've written three books in the series so far, part of the larger "Coda cannon" (I just coined that term; what do you think?): A to Z, The Letter Z, and your newest release, Paris A to Z. As a writer, I know how some characters just push themselves into our consciousness and demand to be written, and it feels like Angelo is one of those. (Who could say no to Angelo?) How did Angelo get into your head?
OMG, yes, Ang is definitely one of those. I always think of Ang as Athena, bursting forth from Zeus' skull. That was him all the way.
Initially, I didn't have his POV in A to Z, and Angelo was really a quiet little wallflower (I know, right?) who fell in love with Zach while Zach was in love with Tom. But it just wasn't working. I sent it to my friend Amy who, at the time, was my biggest supporter and cheerleader, and she said, "I want to know what Angelo is thinking." So I was driving in the car, thinking about Angelo, and the song Backfire (by Mutemath) came on, and suddenly: BOOM! He was there, totally filling my brain, just so loud, and so fucking pissed off, but really hurt underneath it all. I went home, and he just came pouring out. The first scene I wrote for him was the one where he goes to the club and picks up a guy, and that scene barely changed from first draft to last, and it's probably my favorite scene in the book. After that, it was all Angelo, for a couple of days. He completely took over ... well, not just my brain. Our entire household, really.
When that was done, I went back and I slotted him into Zach's story, then I stopped and read it straight through, and I was hit in the face with this very obvious thing: Angelo was in present tense! I sort of freaked! How did that happen? How had I spent three days with him ruling my head, and NOT have noticed that I was writing him WRONG? So then I spent an entire day going through and changing all of Angelo to past tense. I got up the next morning, and I read through what I had done, and I seriously started to cry, because that bright, loud, pissed-off guy in my head was GONE. He wasn't in the pages anymore at all. Instead of edgy and impetuous and impulsive, he was suddenly sort of whiny and wishy-washy and indecisive. I'm sure people will say a better author could have made it work, and maybe they're right, but I'm telling you, that past-tense person was NOT Angelo.
I sent both versions to the people who read for me at the time, and without fail, they all said, "The present tense is better." In fact, one of them said, "You either have to change him back, or you have to ditch him completely and find another guy for Zach to fall in love with, because this Angelo is no fun at all." Of course, Angelo was there in my head telling me that I better fucking not even think about letting another guy have Zach now, so for the first time (but certainly not the last), Angelo got exactly what he wanted, and I took some heat for it. He says, "What the fuck ever."
I love that Ang took over. When a character does that, you pretty much have to step out of the way; it's not your story anymore, it's theirs. Those are the best characters, in my opinion. (And I think I've told you before that I normally detest present tense in fiction, and yet when I read Angelo, it was so absolutely right that you instantly won me over.) Will we see more of Ang? (Oh, please! Oh, please!)
Well, if anybody could nag another story out of me, it would be him, but I think he's matured so much now, I'm not sure what will happen next.
I think Ang wants a baby. (~runs away~)
Wouldn't it be great if someone made the A to Z books into a movie? Do you think anyone's thought of optioning m/m erotic romance? I think it would sell like tasty little hotcakes. (You can tell your publisher I said so, if that'll help.)
That would be great! If it ever happens, you can be my date at the release party. But I'm sure not holding my breath!
You're on. You have to go in drag, though.
Who is your favorite character in your books? (Say "Ang." ~twisting your arm~)
It probably is Ang, honestly. He's sort of the voice of my pissed-off self, except with way bigger balls.
And I'm sure Zach thanks you for that last part. ;)
I know a lot of people prefer Cole. I do think Cole is pretty awesome. Thank you for that scene in The Letter Z. You know what I'm talking about. And also that other one that has nothing to do with Cole and involves eyeliner. (Oh, this isn't a question, just me drifting off into fantasy land.)
Ha! You're welcome for both. :-)
So. Cole. Was he inspired by anyone you know?
No. Actually, none of my characters are inspired by people I know. They're all just men who live in my head. The one exception is Nero Sensei and his karate school - that school with its balcony and its puking students actually exists (or did at one time).
Thank goodness my kung fu sifu never had that effect on her students!
Do you ever get flack for Cole being too fay? (Do people even use that word anymore? How old am I?) What do you tell the people who give you flack?
When Strawberries for Dessert hit the shelves (if you'll excuse the expression), people were divided into two camps. First, there was the group who already loved him and had been asking me, "What about Cole?" ever since Promises. On the other side was a far larger group of people saying, "I hate flamboyant characters," and, "I hate him for what he did in the previous books." Cole has won most of them over. ;-)
I was worried when I wrote it that people would say I was promoting a false stereotype, but I think men like Cole are underrepresented in m/m. Are all gay men flamboyant? Obviously not. Most of them aren't. But some are, and I wanted to embrace that. I did have one of my fans who emailed me right when it came out, and he said, "I don't know if I can stand a whole book of this guy. Does he ever butch up?" And I told him, "No, Cole never 'butches up', but there's more to him than meets the eye." He did end up reading it, and he gives me a hard time now for making him love a guy who he really didn't want to love.
To be honest, I can't totally relate to the more butch characters of Jared and Matt—when I hear the word "football," my brain partially shuts down ;)—though I still love their story. I think pushing them all together with Cole and Jonathan in Paris A to Z adds a lovely dynamic.
And on the subject of lovely dynamics, I'm a big fan of your "man candy" tweets on Twitter. Where do you find all of that lovely candy? Anybody ever give you a hard time for posting it? (I said "hard." Huh-huh-huh.)
I find a great deal of it on Artistry of Male. LOVE that site. http://artistryofmale.blogspot.com/
Nobody's ever given me a hard time. I do worry sometimes that it drives gay men crazy (not in a good way), and I hope that's not the case, but the positive response has really been amazing. I did it at first just because I was bored, and I had pictures of hot guys, and suddenly it seemed like that's what I was known for, so I figured, I may as well give people what they want. ;-)
Always a good policy. (And, wow, that is an awesome site!) So what's next for Marie Sexton? Working on anything new? Can you give us a tiny peek? How about a bit of "candy"?
I do have two releases coming up after Paris. First is Between Sinners and Saints, which will be released by Amber Allure on May 29. This is a contemporary m/m about a playboy bartender from Miami and his very innocent massage therapist. Then on August 22, Total e-Bound will release Song of Oestend, which is my first big venture out of contemporary. I don't quite know how to classify it. It's sort of an alternate universe old-west fantasy, I guess. And right at this moment, I'm working on space pirate smut. And if you say, Ice Pirates, I will honestly tell you that I've never seen that movie. My space pirates are more like Wraeththu. Except, you know, not.
How nice of them to release Song of Oestend for my birthday! :D
All three of those sound like a lot of fun, but I'm really looking forward to those space pirates. (And I've never seen Ice Pirates either, so you're in good company.) I love Storm Constantine's Wraeththu. I had actually just finished the prequel to The Devil's Garden when I met her several years ago at a con; a friend of mine told me that my Meer reminded her of the Wraeththu so I had to read her books, and of course I was hooked.
I won't do a sneak peek of the pirates yet, but if you haven't seen it, you can go to my November newsletter here:
http://mariesexton.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Newsletter.pdf Scroll down to page 3, and you'll find an excerpt from Between Sinners and Saints.
And candy? I have lots of that! I'll share one of my favorite shots EVER from BeautifulMag.
Oh, my goodness. They're all...bandagey and ropey and...what's his other hand doing? I'll be back in a minute...or maybe I should just end this here. ;) Thanks so much for letting me interview you, Marie! You're welcome to join me Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell any time. :)
Marie Sexton lives in Colorado. She’s a fan of just about anything that involves muscular young men piling on top of each other. In particular, she loves the Denver Broncos and enjoys going to the games with her husband. Her imaginary friends often tag along. Marie has one daughter, two cats, and one dog, all of whom seem bent on destroying what remains of her sanity. She loves them anyway.
Visit Marie’s website: