I've been reading about the developing category of New Adult fiction for a while. Most recently, Stephan Lee, writing in the June 20 edition of Entertainment Weekly, defined the genre as “millennial tube-top rippers” and noted “Books in the genre – which thrives in the digital sphere – are also defined by their roller-coaster intensity.”
In the same article, St. Martin’s Griffin publisher Jennifer Enderlin is quoted as saying that New Adult is “young people dealing with more angsty issues than in YA. There’s much more emphasis on toxic relationships, sex and drugs, a lot of passion and emotion.”
When I read that article, I realized that my own work has been moving towards the New Adult category, and I started to wonder if there was already an M/M subdivision. One of the first mentions I found was a this mention of a book by E.K. Blair, Fading. “What’s interesting is that this New Adult book is about the gay best friend and his roommate. I've read all over the internet how this book is “popping the m/m cherry” for many readers.”
My protagonists seem to be getting younger and younger. Kimo Kanapa’aka, the hero of my Mahu Investigations, sprung into existence at thirty-two, when he was dragged out of the closet after a clandestine visit to a gay bar. Kimo had a long romantic history with women behind him, and though he’s a tough cop, he was scared of what being gay might mean for his job, his family, and his whole life.
Liam McCullough, one of the two protagonists in my HaveBody, Will Guard series, came to terms with being gay while a Navy SEAL, when he risked his life to save a teammate, and realized that he had to value his own life, and tell the truth about it. He was in his early thirties then, as well.
In my very first gay romance novel, GayLife.com, I made my hero in his late twenties. I figured he’d have gone through the angst of coming out by then, and be ready for a real relationship. The book was also a coming-of-age story for Brian, who had hopped around from job to job and one casual encounter to the next.
A couple of years ago, I noticed that a collection of college-boy erotica I self-published was doing very well in sales, so I came up with the idea of writing a series of erotic shorts about the members of an all-gay fraternity, Lambda Lambda Lambda, at Florida University (FU) in Miami.
It was a lot of fun to write about these guys who were more open about their sexuality at a much younger age than my usual protagonists. I thought that it reflected the changing times as well. I couldn't imagine Kimo having sex when he was an undergrad at UC Santa Cruz, or Liam getting it on with a fellow SEAL in the days of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But these frat brothers came from a new generation.
The guys became more real to me the more I wrote about them, and in the back of my mind they began demanding their own stories. They wanted more than just some casual sex. They wanted their own HEA – happily ever after – or at least an HFN – happy for now.
So I sketched out a plan for a trilogy of M/M romance novels focused on three of the guys, in the summer after their college graduation. In Love on Site, armed with his construction management degree (and a thing for older guys) Manny Garcia goes to work for handsome, sexy real estate developer Walter Loredo, who’s going through a divorce. As Manny figures out how to navigate his way through the macho world of construction, he falls for Walter big-time.
This book felt very personal to me, because my first career out of business school was in real estate development, though I came at the field through my MBA and my degree in operations management. I still feel a pang of longing for those days whenever I pass a shopping center under construction, and it was great fun to relive those days of early morning meetings and sweaty shirtless workmen.
The next guy I tackled was Larry Leavis, a skinny beanpole whose first experience of sex comes as part of a threesome with new frat brothers. Larry’s a computer geek, a species I know well, because my next career move was to computer game development. My coworkers were young guys with awesome technical skills and a disregard for personal hygiene. I spent hours testing computer games from Fisher-Price Firehouse Rescue to Wheel of Fortune to space invaders and simulated golf.
Larry’s story was tough, because halfway through a minor character took over, and wanted to take the book into a much darker direction. So I shelved it and moved on to the guy whose story I knew least about, Gavin Kaczmarek. I’ve been intrigued for a long time by people with a tangential connection to fame – children and grandchildren of actors, musicians and athletes. What’s it like for those kids?
In Three Lambs, Gavin is introduced as a very handsome guy who begins to explore modeling, and his story, “Head Shots,” ended up in an erotic anthology I edited for Cleis, Model Men. I started to wonder what the guy behind that beautiful façade was like, and made him the grandson of one of the members of a trio of singing sisters from the 1940s who had achieved minor success.
Though I studied piano for three years, I can’t sing a note and don’t know very much about music. I was able to learn what I needed as I shepherded Gavin on the same journey, as he learns to manage the gift of voice he inherited from his Grandma Frances, falling in love along the way.
After I finished that book, I was able to go back to Larry’s book and realize that the guy he was in love with was nothing more than a crush, and that his real love was someone who’d been hanging around on the periphery of the book, patiently waiting his turn.
Now that I have thought my way through all these stories (Gavin’s book, Love on Stage, should come out from Loose Id in late summer or early fall, and Larry’s book, Love on the Web, will follow early in 2015) I realized that I've been writing New Adult romances, though in the M/M genre. I've been describing the books as “recent college grads looking for love and success on South Beach,” and that seems to fit the NA genre.
The books are angsty, as Enderlin says – Manny’s family are conservative Catholic Cuban-Americans; Larry’s folks are lower-middle-class people from a rural area, and South Beach is like another world to them. There are toxic relationships and kinky sex—one of my editor’s comments for Love on Stage was a request to amp up the tension in a kinky scene. And of course, passion and emotion are essential to any romance. I've taken a quote from my favorite Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing, as the epigraph for the series. Beatrice says, “Benedick, love on. I will requite thee!” The giddy exuberance of that declaration reflects the way my new adult heroes face love head-on.
What New Adult M/M romance have you been reading – or writing? Please add your titles in the comments, and let’s get a whole list going.