The concept behind Geoffrey Knight’s new book is something near and dear to the readers in the M/M genre and community. Why Do Straight Women Love Gay Romance? But after being interviewed for this project, individually and as a group, we thought it only fitting to turn the tables on the mastermind. Get to know Geoff Knight a little bit better while he takes his turn in the Hot Seat.
When did you start writing, and what genre?
The first novel I ever wrote was a straight thriller. I was 21 and it was VERY long (about 800 pages!). It was shortlisted for a national prize for non-published authors, but it didn’t win and I never sent it to a publisher. It’s sitting in a drawer (isn’t that a writing cliché and a half!). After that I turned my hand to screenwriting – which I think is why I have a very visual style of writing – but I eventually came back to novel-writing because I find it gives the writer much more control over his or her material. Then of course along came Why Straight Women Love Gay Romance, which I pretty much had no control over whatsoever, LOL! I wanted honest answers and I got ‘em! But that was both the purpose and the joy of it.
How long have you been writing gay fiction and/or M/M?
I’ve been writing gay fiction since 2007 and for me it’s much more fulfilling than any other genre. I can be honest and open and write from the heart. I can write stories that are dear to me, or something that I can’t find on the market. Which is why I started writing gay adventure stories. There were a few out there, William Maltese forged a path into gay adventure long before I started writing it and he did a great job of it. But I wanted even more, so I started writing it myself.
Do you see a difference between the two?
Yes I do. For me, M/M has a much greater focus on a specific relationship between two men, whether it be highly sexual or simply romantic (or something in between). I would consider my adventure novels to be gay fiction. Whereas my stories such as The Pearl and even The Gentlemen’s Parlor I would consider M/M.
When did you become aware of the high volume of women readers?
The very first time I became aware of it, I was writing a cover tagline for The Riddle of the Sands. I can’t even remember what it was I initially suggested, but my publisher told me the wording was too male-reader focused and would alienate my female fans. What female fans?? Then one day Helen (who is now one of my dearest friends) contacted me through a yahoo group and said she wanted to meet me to sign some books. We had never met before and we both lived in Sydney so I said, “Sure thing.” From there Helen introduced me to a whole world of female readers!
What was your reaction?
I was surprised. And very curious! Which is one of the reasons I started this project. I quickly discovered that everyone I knew was just as surprised and curious as I was…even many of the women reading these books! Yet none of us had really had a good chat about it. It was a bit like an elephant in the room, and I got to the point where I wanted to shout “Hey! There’s an elephant!”. As a group of people who love gay fiction/romance/M/M, we all have great respect and love for each other, we all know the sex in these books is hot and the romance is sweet. But we’d never all sat down and compared notes as to WHY we loved this genre or category of romance so much.
Did it influence your writing and/or open up new story ideas?
I think it will definitely influence my writing at times, especially when it comes to the romance between characters. I definitely think I need to pour more romance into my stories. I tend to write larger than life, and these interviews have taught me it can be the smallest of details that can melt a heart. Having said that, if I’m writing action, I’ll always make it big and bold and heart-stopping. I think I just need to crank up the romance in between the chase scenes and ticking bombs LOL!
Do you think men and women, in general, want different things in fiction/romance/erotica?
Yes, I do, generally speaking. Gay men are very sexually-driven creatures. In real life, two gay men can be complete strangers and have sex without uttering a single word to each other. They can come, clean up and leave without knowing each other’s names and making a sound more than a grunt. As a gay man, I find that very sexy. But I think for some women, silent sex is a total turn-off. There’s nothing romantic about it. While I think both men and women can handle the heat of the sex right off the Richter scale, women want more of a build-up and justification. Again, I’m being very general, but I think women love intimacy, whereas men just wanna shoot their load.
When you craft your stories, do you consider the gender of your audience and/or target some stories for men and others for women?
No, not really. At least I try not to. I think I write my stories for myself more than anything. Whether they end up being for men or women is something I try not to think about, although as I said above I think I do need to add more romance to more stories. But for me, I like to let the story tell itself. If I put too much agenda into my work, I know that adds up to more pressure and chances are I’ll never finish it.
What was the most surprising thing about putting this project together?
I think the first thing that surprised me was the enthusiasm of the women. I was expecting maybe half of those I asked to be a part of this project to say yes. But in the end, there was only a handful of women who didn’t participate, and of those, several of them had very good reasons. Everyone else pounced on this project, these women genuinely wanted to be heard. And that attitude seems to have continued as word of the book has spread. More and more women are putting their hand up in online forums to share their stories as to why they love gay romance! I think this is just the start of a discussion that needs to be talked about, so that people can feel comfortable and proud of what they love. And that was the other thing that really surprised me. Halfway through these interviews I realized that this project had the capacity to change lives, and I saw that gay romance was already changing lives for the better. The day I realized that, I think that was pretty much the proudest day of my life!
What is your overall background? Friends, family, and support network? (Amy wants you to give us the dirt 🙂 )
I travel the world as a sex slave, serving champagne naked at secret orgies held in penthouses throughout New York, Paris and Shanghai. No wait, that’s not quite true, I wear a bowtie. When I’m not doing that, I live on an island on the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve only just moved here, it’s quite the sea-change from Sydney, but I’m loving it. Every day I take my two beautiful dogs to the beach which is pretty much secluded. We walk to the end of the beach, go for a skinny dip in the sea, then walk home again… It’s all very Blue Lagoon, but without Brooke Shields, thankfully. My family is fantastic, Mum and Dad still live in Sydney, and I have an amazing network of friends both here on the island and back in Sydney, and of course online. Which I think is the best thing about the people who love gay romance. Most online communities aren’t “real” if you know what I mean. But the friendships I’ve made online and the friendships I’ve forged with those who attended GRL last year, those friendships are as real as it gets!
How romantic are you?
You’re talking to the guy who cried at the end of Back to the Future 3, when Mary Steenburgen is trying desperately to reach Doc Brown before he vanishes to the future. Gosh, I’m about to start crying again just thinking about it!! Yes, I love romance stories. I’m a total sucker for true love and I absolutely LOVE being romanced. Buy me flowers and a glass of champagne and I’m all yours!
Have you gotten any cool or weird or funny “fan mail?”
I once had a total stranger contact me who told me she liked the sound of my books and could I please send them all to her for free, LOL. Apart from that, I do get some very cool letters from people who love my stories, and that’s always wonderful and encouraging. Although there’s a flipside as well, you have to learn to take the good with the bad. One guy was so appalled by my sex scenes he asked me if I’d actually ever had sex in my life. I wanted to write back and say, YES, THANK YOU VERY MUCH! AND A LOT OF IT! HAVE YOU?? But I didn’t. I think the best letter I’ve ever received was from a guy in the Middle East who told me he had a boyfriend and they were in love, but they had to keep their love a secret for fear of being stoned to death. He said he read my books at night, under the covers, and they made him happy knowing that there was a world out there where men could show their love for each other, and my books gave him hope that one day he could be a part of that world. That letter made me feel very lucky and very blessed.
What would we be surprised to learn about you?
I have a massive collection of cool action figures, all in their original boxes, covering the walls of my study. From Houdini to Van Gogh, from William Shakespeare to Benjamin Franklin (kite included), from Indiana Jones (no surprise there) to Linda Blair doing the backward spider-walk scene from the Exorcist, from Grandpa from the Munsters to “Deluxe Jesus with glo-in-the-dark hands…miracles not guaranteed”. Yes, I’m a very big kid at heart!
WHY STRAIGHT WOMEN LOVE GAY ROMANCE
WHO? WHAT? WHY?
Here’s how it all started:
I was having a few drinks with friends and when one of them asked how my writing was going. I mentioned that I’d just finished a new manuscript and had sent it off to my friend Helen to read. The conversation went something like this—
Friend at the pub: “Helen? A woman reads your books?”
Geoff: “Yeah, lots of women read my books. In fact, the majority of my readers are female.”
Friend at pub (curious): “But I thought you only wrote gay porn?”
Geoff: “Well, it’s a bit more than just porn. But it’s erotica and romance, and yes, it’s gay.”
Friend at pub (perplexed): “What are lesbians doing reading about gay men?”
Geoff: “I don’t think there are that many lesbians who read my books, maybe a few, who knows.”
Friend at pub (getting really confused now): “But you said women read your books.”
Geoff: “Yeah, mostly straight women.”
Friend at pub (downright baffled): “But… why?”
Geoff (searching but not coming up with much): “I don’t know.”
That was the first, but by no means the last time I’ve ever had that discussion. In fact, it’s come up at readings and book club appearances and writers’ forums I’ve attended in both Australia and the United States. And every single time, the discussion plays out exactly the same, with the exception of the last chat I had on the subject which ended with—
Geoff (searching but not coming up with much): “I don’t know. But you know what? I’m gonna find out!”
And so it began.
I started thinking about how to get to the bottom of this, who to go to for answers, and whether people were ready to know about something that was, in my opinion, one of the world’s best kept secrets—Why do straight women love gay romance?
I had met a great number of wonderful women at the inaugural GayRomLit retreat in New Orleans in October 2011 (and yes, the overwhelming majority of attendees were straight women), so I knew I could comfortably ask several friends I’d made at GRL if they’d like to help out. There were also a great number of women on Facebook and several Yahoo Groups dedicated to gay romance who I thought might be interested. I started contemplating the kind of questions I wanted to ask—
How did you discover gay romance?
Who knows you read it?
What reaction do you get when you tell people?
Does your husband now?
Has it changed your sex life?
—but in the back of my mind one lingering thought kept holding me back.
What if these women didn’t want their secret told?
What if they were happy reading about gay men in love, without the world even knowing about it?
Then in March 2012, something else happened that made me want to push past this barrier.
A wonderful gay romance author named William Neale died.
Bill wrote some of the most touching, honest and heartfelt gay love stories ever written.
One day he sent his latest manuscript to his publisher.
The next day he was gone, without any warning at all.
News of his death took this very small and very tight little gay romance community by complete surprise. Bill had made many friends and fans, he was one of the organizers of GayRomLit, and his passing left us all reeling, whether we knew him well or not.
And this was something I couldn’t figure out either.
I barely knew Bill. I spoke to him a few times at the retreat in New Orleans and via email, and yet his death left me devastated. And I wasn’t the only one. Fellow authors and fans of Bill who had never met him were left so upset by his sudden passing that it were as though they’d lost a member of their own family.
In fact, the subject line of the email that Bill’s publisher, Laura Baumbach, sent out was: A Death in the Family.
It was a few days later, after thinking about Bill almost non-stop, that I realized how powerful Laura’s subject line was, how true it was, and this was why we were all so devastated.
Because we are a family.
We shared something that the world didn’t know about.
Together we all loved gay romance.
Together we shared a passion for stories about the love between two men.
When the attendees of that first GayRomLit retreat in October 2011 all came together for the first time, it was like being in a safe place, sharing something other people didn’t know or understand. It was like being with family, despite the fact that we were all pretty much strangers. There was a sense of courage, of confidence, of unspoken understanding, as though so many people there were “coming out” in their own way, for the first time. There was instant trust, an instant friendship between us all.
Then Bill died and we lost one of our own.
And all I could think was: the world needs to know we’re here!
How can someone like Bill die and his wonderful words and stories be loved and cherished by so few?
I truly believed it was time for this secret—these stories—to be told.
The first thing I did was send an email to Laura and my editor, Kris, at MLR Press and explain how I felt, what I wanted to do. With their undying determination, passion and years of experience publishing gay romance, Laura and Kris whole-heartedly backed the project.
The second thing I did was approach the friends I had made at GayRomLit as well as online. I also approached some women I had never spoken to before, strangers who have since become my friends. I told them I wanted their personal stories, their honest answers to some very private questions. To be honest, I wasn’t at all sure what kind of reaction I was going to get, but when I got it, it blew me away. Almost all the women I approached not only wanted to be a part of this book, they were genuinely thrilled and excited and passionate to help.
Yes, these women have something to say!
Initially I asked eight women to participate. Their responses had me captivated. They introduced me to theories and thoughts on the subject I hadn’t even imagined. I was hooked, and so I asked four more women. Then another five. And still I wanted to know more.
I wasn’t simply fascinated by their responses; I was spellbound!
In the end I interviewed 33 women from 9 countries across 4 continents.
And their answers are as diverse as they are riveting, which thrilled me because diversity was one of my main goals with this project.
I wanted the award-winning publisher and the #1 New York Times bestselling author, as well as the most prolific and successful female writers in this category. But I also wanted the fans, the women who read gay romance not with aspirations of writing a novel, but just for their love of these books.
I wanted women from different age groups in all kinds of different relationships. I wanted grandmothers and Soccer moms and single women of all ages. I wanted the happily married and the happily divorced. I wanted women with children both gay and straight, as well as those who have no intention of ever raising a family.
And I wanted cultural diversity. From a town in Iceland to America’s deep south; from mainland China where homosexuality was classed as a mental illness until as recently as 2001, to Germany where the Mayor of Berlin is openly gay; from Italy to Ireland; from Australia to Canada; from Hong Kong to England.
What I found were stories that made me laugh, cry and shake my head in astonishment.
But what I also found was something that truly astounded me.
I found a once-silent army of women who, simply through their love of gay romance, have become an army fighting for equality.
They’re educating their husbands and children.
They’re changing the perceptions of their parents and friends and work colleagues.
They’re joining support groups and waving flags and becoming a true force to be reckoned with.
Before they started reading gay romance, many of these women didn’t even have any gay friends.
Now they are one of the strongest, and most surprising, waves of support for equal rights on the planet—and most of the world, both gay and straight, doesn’t even know it.
Well all that’s about to change.
It’s time to meet the ladies.
BUY LINK: Why Straight Women Love Gay Romance, MLR Press