When my mother found out that we’d signed a contract on Starling (now the first book in the Love in Los Angeles series) she was proud. Then, when she found out it was a romance novel, she asked me if I was.
It’s a sticky thing, the inevitable discussion of genre and status, that is further complicated by Starling being an LGBT romance, containing a good deal of sex, and, btw, being about the television industry, which is where we tend to dump our low-art pop-culture anxieties.
So I talked to my mom about the genre’s popularity and about how it gets marginalized because it’s most often read and written by women. I told her the stuff that made her ask me this question echoes the way we treat “prestige” television vs. episodic network television. One is associated with a male-dominated film culture, while the other ties back more closely to daytime soaps. We can talk about content and production values all day long, but the reality is that our reaction to the idea of the romance genre often comes from a deeply gendered and biased place that we regularly apply to all sorts of media.
Mostly though, I sort of felt like a jerk for addressing the question at all. And not just because my mom just wanted to make sure I was happy. I also feel like a jerk when I wind up defending why Erin and I write LGBT romance and why we tend to refer to it that way when m/m romance seems to be the marketing category label of choice. To me, these always feel like questions that shouldn’t quite be on the table. After all, why tell any story? Why not ask us why we chose this one, versus this genre or type?
My mom, meanwhile, hasn’t decided if she’s going to read Starling yet. I told her she could, and considering she survived (and loved) the musical about dominatrixes I wrote the book for, she might love Starling and its sequels too.
But in the meantime, I’ve got to figure out a soundbite for all these What’s up with that? questions. Because saying that the relationships in Starling include characters of various genders who are gay, straight, bisexual, and asexual; polyamorous and monogamous; and that all those characters define those terms slightly differently than every other character, is a little exhausting. And yes, when we say LGBT, we do mean all four of those letters and more, although not all of them appear in the first book.
But basically, labels are weird. Starling’s hero Alex gets the job that changes his life because of a label he hates. Ultimately, he figures out about himself what I think I’ve figured out about these books: sometimes labels are just for other people’s benefit, and it doesn’t always hurt to run with them.
Which basically means the next time my mom asks me if I’m proud, I’m just gonna shrug and say of course. It’s not about me anyway. It’s about the story.