Jesse Wave's latest post about m/m romance being non-stop twenty-something white USAmericans
inspired me to do a headcount. Let's see...( the tl;dr stats under the cut )
So, how do I fit that stereotype of writing twenty-something white USAmericans[*] in an unidentified cookie-cutter USAmerican city, doing jobs like writer or artist or BDSM club manager? [* specifying because Wave is Canadian.]
Not too many twenty-somethings in that lot. An awful lot of scientists and engineers, to the point where I have been accused of being unable to write characters that are *not* geeks. And not a single one of my main characters is an American. Every one of the humans is British, even the ones in stories set in interstellar empires. Funny, that... The leads are uniformly white, but that's partly a reflection of my personal experience of discrimination based on my ethnicity being about things that aren't as obvious as physical appearance -- though it took me years to consciously recognise where some of the stuff in my m/m fiction about passing was coming from.
I wasn't deliberately setting out to write diverse characters (in the sense of "diversity" that Wave was using). I was writing stuff that interested *me*, and for various reasons that means a lot of characters in their thirties. As I get older myself, it becomes easier to write convincing characters in their forties and fifties, and I expect to write more of them. I don't write about US characters because from my perspective they're the alien, not the default. The non-stop parade of scientists and engineers is both "write what you know", and "write what interests you". Less obviously, the political characters fall under those headings as well -- $EX_EMPLOYER was big on encouraging staff to participate in the community, and I had several colleagues who were involved in local politics. So I've been writing these characters because they reflected my world and my interests. And I've been doing it for a long time, in genre terms. From before most of the epubs would consider m/m, from when one of the biggest said that it wouldn't take m/m because women didn't want to read that stuff. All the way back to when I was writing mostly fanfic, and there you have one of the biggest reasons why I write stuff about thirty and forty somethings with a strong political thread running through it. Because what set me writing somewhere back in the late 1990s was a dystopian sf show with 1970s BBC sensibilities and a cast who were easy on the eye but very much not selected on their sex appeal for the demographic that American network tv is chasing. I'm a product of my time and place, and that influence is just as obvious in my original fiction as in my fanfiction.
Which leads back to a conversation elsewhere a few weeks ago about a new wave in that fandom that seems to have been born out of the culture of a specific group of mailing lists. One of the markers of that new wave was an interest in experimenting with literary form, but it wasn't the only one. As I said in that discussion, I wasn't that interested in exploring literary style in my own writing, but I was very much interested in using the background universe provided by canon to explore political and psychological concepts, and yes, *especially* in the X-rated material.
That hasn't changed just because I've gafiated from writing in that fandom. Indeed, I probably started writing in the first place because I was already interested in such concepts, and along came a discussion forum that allowed me to chew those concepts to death, both in essay format and in fiction. Branching into original fic (which happened only a couple of years after I started writing fanfic) simply gave me new ways of talking about this stuff. One of the ways this shows up is the constant harping about identity, what it is, and who controls it.
This is utterly overt in Mindscan
, where mental invasion and coercion is the very basis of the book. Hardly surprising, you might think if you're aware that the core of that book started life as a fanfic piece; but the reality is that I wrote the original novelette as fanfic because fanfic was my primary format at the time. The basic story concept, I could and probably would have written as original fiction had there been anywhere at the time where I could have sold it. On the other hand, watching the show as a young teenager nearly twenty years earlier, with no thought then of writing, was probably a contributing factor in my interest in such things in the first place - a pretty little chicken and egg problem.
But it colours other books as well. Promises to Keep
, Dolphin Dreams
-- these all address in various ways the problems faced by paperless people in an increasingly cradle-to-grave documented society. Particularly people who are paperless because they are outside the norm. There is, of course, another specific influence on these books, and that's Heinlein's Methuselah's Children
There are other examples, and other influences. But it does rather look as if part of the reason my stories don't fit that stereotype quoted above is because I'm using a slightly different toolkit to a lot of m/m romance writers, and yes, I am including some of the other writers who came out of fanfic in that. There are fandoms and fandoms, and My Fandom had a strong self-selection for people who were interested in the sort of things you find in dystopian space opera, as is rather obvious when I look at some of my fellow fen who went off to play with original universes. We're perfectly capable of writing pretty twenty-somethings if that's what the story requires, but it's unlikely to be because that's what the market requires.
So why write romance at all, if what my toolkit contains comes from science fiction and fantasy? Because there is room within romance for the stories that don't fit narrow stereotypes of what romance should be. Because the genre conventions can be a self-imposed framework to work within, rather than an externally imposed constriction of my writing choices. The requirement of the Happy Ever After doesn't have to be an artificial limit imposing a fake conflict and equally fake resolution; rather, it can be an intriguing puzzle for a writer, a game to play with your readers. There will be a conclusion where the rough general nature is guaranteed, just as there is with a mystery, but there are so many interesting ways to get there. And writing about a wider range of characters than that narrow stereotype falls naturally out of playing the game.