First off, I want to say a *huge* thank you to Charlie for letting me share her space here today! I don’t really have anything “planned”, so if it’s all right with you guys, I’m just going to talk for a few minutes about who I am and what I do.
I’m a forty something year old woman bisexual and I write (and read) gay romance—and I’m almost always surprised by the responses I get to that.
Most of the time, people are intrigued, sometimes a little confused, but generally accepting (I hang with a pretty liberal crowd). Occasionally I run into the hairy eyeball, people (ironically, usually other writers) who assume that because I write gay romance I’m penning porn. Usually I smile and point to Hanging by the Moment, a 112,000 word novel that I have coming out in Sept/Oct (2013) in which there are exactly 3.5 sex scenes. (The second scene gets cut off half way through due to Pasha’s inability to handle giving a blow job through a condom—but Daniel, ever cautious boy that he is, is hyper aware of his HIV status and refuses to have any kind of sex without protection.)
On the other hand, the first half of my second novel, Bound: Forget Me Knot can pretty much be summed up by “and they had a lot of kinky sex!” So it really depends on the characters, because what happens (or doesn’t happen) between the sheets is more telling about a person’s character than what they say when they’re on the phone talking to their mother. I want to tell my characters’ whole story, not just the rated G version of it. (And I’ve read some pretty steamy het romance, so seriously, only m/m is “pornographic”? Please! *g*)
But because I used to be a little nervous about what people would say or think, I would hedge around the subject of what I write. When asked, I’d typically give the safe answer: “I write romance” and then go off and feel incredibly guilty because I don’t write romance. I’m not interested in boy meets girl. I can’t really tell you why—but I can’t really tell you why I like fantasy novels or prefer Star Trek to Star Wars, either. I can’t even explain why I don’t like Brussels sprouts, but devour broccoli like there’s no tomorrow. They’re both green, they’re both in the cabbage family, but the one is totally gross, IMO while the other is awesomely yummy. And I know that not everyone would agree with me. I don’t think there needs to be a rhyme or reason for what we like (or don’t like), it’s just a matter of personal preference—and seriously, how boring would the world be if we all liked the same stuff, anyway?
So these days I say it loud and say it proud: I write gay romance. (I’m also pretty vocal about not liking Brussels sprouts, too!)
I do truly believe that all (well written) romance is created equal and should be treated as such regardless of the gender/s of the main characters, but there are too many silly misconceptions floating around for me to hedge around what I do anymore. (My favorite is: but you’re a woman! Yup, last time I checked, anyway. *G* A lot of my readers are women too. It always amazes me when I get shocked looks from other women after saying that—but some of those women have turned around and asked me if they can buy a copy of one of my books! And on a more serious note, it always guts me a little when a gay man says to me that he had no idea anyone was writing gay romance novels and where can he find one.)
I truly hope that someday our books will be available on the shelves of any bookstore and every library across the country, rather than just online or at a handful of LGBTQ bookstores and community centers here and there.
I’d like to end by going back to Hanging by the Moment, not just because it’s coming out in a few months and of course I’m excited about it, but because the story is one that I think is important. I’ve only read a few romance novels that tackle HIV (although contrary to what my husband thinks, I haven’t actually read every romance novel out there!) It wasn’t something I set out to write about; in fact, after Bound, my plan was to write something “easy”. But characters have a way of sidetracking a writer’s best lain plans, which was exactly what Daniel did to me when I was writing his and Pasha’s story. And honestly, the more I researched the subject, the more I knew I needed to write this story.
The stigma attached to being HIV positive is overwhelming and some of the things people still believe about the disease still breaks my heart.
The following is a completely unedited excerpt from Hanging by the Moment. There will no doubt be a few changes after the editing staff at Dreamspinner Press works their magic on it, but I chose this scene to share today because for me, it was one of the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve ever written. Daniel has just had to tell Pasha that he’s HIV positive and even though this passage (and in fact the whole book) is told from Pasha’s point of view, I had to put myself into Daniel’s head, too.
The world stopped spinning on its axis.
Pasha’s brain couldn’t quite process the word.
He knew what HIV was—who didn’t—but what does it mean?
Sure, HIV wasn’t the death sentence it had been thirty years ago, there were treatment options, even some glimmering of hope for a cure, but it still meant AIDS.
It meant getting sick.
It meant dying.
“How long have you had it?” Pasha heard himself asking.
“I found out six years ago.”
Six years. Daniel had been living—dying—with this thing for six years? Pasha closed his eyes, but the throbbing in his head didn’t go away. “Could we just… would you just drive, please?”
“I-75. South. To Joseph Campau.” Home. It was the only place Pasha was sure he could successfully navigate to.
But he was pretty sure he knew the answer. He doubted Daniel had ever done drugs—or at least nothing heavy, nothing that involved needles. He was just as sure that if it wasn’t Daniel’s fault, if he’d been exposed accidently somehow, he would have said so already. That only left stupidity. Sheer fucking stupidity. Anger roiled up inside him. Even as a small part of Pasha’s conscience kicked at him, telling him he was being selfish, he couldn’t help feeling cheated.
He liked Daniel.
“I know,” said Daniel. “Believe me, whatever you’re thinking, I’ve thought it myself a thousand times.”
His tone broke Pasha’s heart, but that didn’t stop him from being angry. “You have no idea what I’m fucking thinking.” He didn’t even know what he was thinking, so how could anybody else?
“Maybe not,” Daniel conceded. “But I know what everyone else thinks.”
“Yeah.” Pasha leaned his head against the window. Even the cold of the glass didn’t help ease his aching head—his aching everything.
“I know I should have told you sooner, Pasha. I’m sorry. I didn’t think…we only went on one date,” Daniel reminded him. “I didn’t know if it going to go anywhere. I figured if it did… if it did, I would tell you. And if not, no harm done.”
No harm done? Was he fucking kidding? “We talked almost every day this week! For hours. I thought…,” but he couldn’t finish his sentence aloud. He’d started to fall for Daniel; he thought Daniel felt the same way. “I told you about my mother, Daniel, about my fucked up family—about stuff I never tell anybody!”
“I know. I’m sorry. I swear I was going to tell you Monday. It’s why I came to the restaurant to see you.”
But I couldn’t get out of work. God, if Daniel had told him then…Pasha swiped his hand across his face. He wasn’t crying! He’d never felt so betrayed. He’d opened up his whole life to Daniel, and Daniel hadn’t bothered to tell him the single most important detail about his. “Why didn’t you just tell me over the phone?” he wanted to know.
“I hoped if I did it face to face, it would make a difference, that you’d see me and not some stupid virus or all the mistakes I made before we even met.”
Where to find Helen:
Helen’s Website: http://www.helenpattskyn.com