By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Authors James Buchanan and Jet Mykles are sitting in the dining room of Buchanan’s 100-year-old Pasadena craftsman house, hunched over coffee, talking about their favorite subject: sex. It’s a cozy place, with a scattering of kids’ toys, pets running around, the perfect picture of domesticity. No whips, chains or leather bondage gear lying about — at least not anywhere obvious. But then again, Buchanan’s real name is Amy, the married mother of two. “James” is the name she would have been given if she’d been born a boy.
“Obviously, I am female,” she says. “But when I think of myself, if you say, Do you identify with being female? My answer is no. It’s just ... me.”
At times she has felt like she was born into the wrong body and wished she was a man. But not so much that she’s actively sought to change anything.
Buchanan is a lawyer. She once wanted to be a criminal prosecutor, and the cops, detectives and FBI agents she writes about come from that world.
Jet Mykles is also a pen name. While Buchanan is lean and compact, Mykles is as voluptuous as a fertility-goddess statue. She isn’t married but has been with the same man for 12 years.
Buchanan’s and Mykles’ real selves reflect their adopted genre — on the one hand conventional, and on the other ... not. The players have changed, but the romance novel remains essentially the same. Only one core story is told, after all: Two people meet, fall in love, overcome adversity and live happily ever after. Mix that with the naughty bits, and you have a killer, page-turning combination. Couched within the warm and fuzzy confines of a romance, the sex becomes safer, more palatable — even as it unfurls into ever more explicit and bizarre scenarios.
By page 12 of Buchanan’s Cheating Chance, Nevada gaming agent Nicky and Riverside vice cop Brandon are having enthusiastic butt sex on the balcony. They’ve just met. Brandon strips naked but keeps his leather chaps on. It’s always been a fantasy of Nicky’s to do a guy with chaps. Vice cops in chaps? If you’re thinking, What’ll they think of next, think ménage à as many people as conceivable.
“But it always has to end up in a committed relationship,” Mykles reminds.
“So far, Willa Okati is the only one who’s made that work,” Buchanan says.
“Oh, God, she did six? Six people?”
“I think it’s seven. They just keep adding beds.”
Some of the sex isn’t so much explicit as surpassingly weird. Purists don’t consider Laurell K. Hamilton’s books gay romance, but her work has recently featured strong homoerotic overtones. Her characters are shape-shifters who push the boundaries of “acceptable” sex. In one novel, a woman is at the bottom of a pile of naked people who all “shift” into cats licking each other.
“Some readers think it’s incredibly hot — and I’m one of them,” Mykles says. “Others think it’s 20 kinds of wrong.”
Mykles’ current book is about a race of bisexual male elves who abduct and impregnate human women so they can harvest their offspring.
Is there an audience for this sort of thing?
Yes, and publishers aren’t shy about asking writers to spice things up. They know what sells. Not long ago, Buchanan was shopping around her manuscript for her 17th-century gay, erotic fairy tale Lord Carabas. One publisher agreed to take the book only if Buchanan added four sex scenes.
Buchanan, who has been known to write 8,000-word rope-bondage scenes, threw up her hands in frustration. “I’m, like, Where?”
This year, Running Press made waves by becoming the first mainstream print house to publish gay romances. The publisher has a novel by Erastes about two handsome iron forgers who fall in love during the witch trials of 1642 England, and another by Alex Beecroft about a sea captain’s desire for his first mate. Erastes and Beecroft are pen names of two female authors living in the U.K. Lee Rowan’s Tangled Web, about closeted young men in Regency London high society, comes out this month. Running Press is keeping the sex soft-core as it tests the waters.
“Our research indicates that M/M is the fastest-growing trend in the romance genre,” says Running Press Associate Publisher Craig Herman. “We recognized an opportunity in the marketplace.”
Harlequin, the oldest of the romance houses, won’t commit to gay romances on paper, but just last month it welcomed LGBT submissions to its digital-publishing line. From a house that doesn’t allow its writers use the words buttocks or panties because it might offend Christian readers, this is nothing short of revolutionary.