DSB: #LGBTQ Fantasy And Reviewers (#amwriting)


A couple of weeks ago Ileandra received a response to a request for a review on ‘Silk Over Razor Blades.’ It has taken some time for either of us to feel able to talk about it. Still longer for me to decide to put my thoughts in a blog post so I can explore them.

I shan’t name the reviewer or the site, but after the initial, enthusiastic decision to review the book, the reviewer came back saying they had enjoyed what they read so far, but would be unable to finish it because they felt uncomfortable reading certain sections of book; namely those featuring intimacy between Saar and Mosi.

To explain, Saar is the world’s first vampire (in Ileandra’s vampire mythos) and very early in his life as a vampire, he began (and sustained) an intimate relationship with a man he met in a brothel. Yes . . . a man. He fell for and subsequently spent long years loving a man as well as his first love, a servant in the royal palace by the name of Kiya. Together they formed a threesome that loved and fought as all those in intimate relationships do.

This reviewer didn’t like it. They felt uncomfortable. They couldn’t continue.

shrugging panda

Credit: ClkerFreeVectorImages

I’m not sure what to say. Yes, I know that some people are uncomfortable with homosexuality. Yes, know that is an individual’s prerogative to decide what they do and don’t want to read. Yes, I understand that sexual relations of any kind in a book labelled ‘urban fantasy’ can sometimes come as a shock (though less and less in contemporary fantasy if you read the current offerings out there).

I know all that. I get it . . . but I can’t help feeling a little hurt.

When I first read the email, I was livid. I couldn’t believe the words before my eyes and had to put my laptop down and out of sight. If I hadn’t, I know I would have responded in a way that was rude and utterly unprofessional. Having had (lots) of time to think about it and to be more rational, I’m glad that I took the time to calm down, because reacting in such a manner would have been terrible for this reviewer and for me. In the end, I thanked the person and asked how far they did reach before deciding it wasn’t for them. I have since continued discussion with this person and ascertained that they became uncomfortable early on in the novel and continued to read anyway, because they had agreed to review. More than a third of the book later, they then decided that they could no longer continue.

Had I sent my response when I first received the email I would never have come to learn how sorry this person was and how regretful. I also would not have the relationship we have now, in which we have both agreed that I may send something else to review in which homosexual relationships are not so prominent. That, I believe, is a plus for both of us and I’m glad I was able to curb my initial urge and act like the person I know myself to be: rational, calm and polite.

However, despite all that, I didn’t apologise for the discomfort.

Thinking about it now, I still think that was the right thing to do (though I’d love your opinion on that). I would have apologised if the site stated that they preferred not to read of homosexual relationships, but they didn’t (or I was unable to find such a disclaimer). Had I known, I would never have sent the novel in the first place—there are dozens of sites and reviewers I’ve rejected for exactly that reason—because the idea of requesting reviews is to target the people you believe will judge you favourably.

And, really, what am I upset about, anyway?

  • That the reviewer didn’t like my book?
    • No; because they did (until until discomfort took over).
  • That the reviewer didn’t finish my book?
    • No; this is the second time I’ve had someone tell me they couldn’t finish the novel and, frankly put, that’s a pretty good rate given the number of people who have now read it.
  • Because they can’t read intimate scenes between two men?
    • . . . yes.

And that is what made me pause.

I’m no stranger to non-traditional relationships. My friends range far and wide across the LGBTQ spectrum and I myself am bisexual. I have friends in non-monogamous relationships, poly relationships, traditional heterosexual relationships, utterly open relationships, asexual relationships, the lot. I consider myself lucky and privileged to understand even the little I do about sexuality and the way relationships can and do work. I’m proud that I’m able to see beyond the traditional and explore the different ways that different people are able to love each other.

Because my friendship group is as I’ve described, it’s always a bit of a shock to see/hear/realise that this isn’t the case everywhere. That some people really just don’t like or are uncomfortable with non-traditional sexual relationships. It slaps me like a wet fish. And, as described above, at first, it makes me angry. Then it makes me sad. Then it makes me thoughtful. Lastly, which is what has driven to me to this post, it makes me determined.

So this one reviewer was unable to finish my book because it featured a homosexual (or, in truth, bisexual) polygamous relationship. So, what? I like that level of diversity in my writing because it reflects the world I see around me and the world I’m part of. Moreover, I think it’s important to educate and showcase way things really are and show people that there is nothing wrong or abnormal about two people loving each other, no matter their gender.

I will continue to write fiction as I always have, featuring characters across the LGBTQ spectrum (I’m yet to touch on the T and the Q but give me time!) Some people will like it, some people won’t, but at the end of the day, who am I writing for, anyway? Yes, I’m producing a product with a view to sell, but I wouldn’t be able to give it life and soul if it wasn’t important to me and true to what I believe and feel.

What do you think? I’m kinda desperate to know that I’m not alone and to hear the experiences of other people and reviewers. Has this happened to you? How did you handle it? Do you think I should have apologised? Would you have sent a snotty email in my place? Join the discussion folks, I really want to know.

DSB Sig

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About Da Shared Brain

I am the mind behind Ileandra Young and Raven ShadowHawk. They call me da shared brain (DSB) and I quite like it, so I thought I'd make my presence here known. You won't hear from me much, but enough to remind you that I'm here.
This entry was posted in Da Shared Brain's Posts, Saar's Legacy, Silk Over Razor Blades and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to DSB: #LGBTQ Fantasy And Reviewers (#amwriting)

  1. This really is a tough situation, but I think you were right not to confront the reviewer with anger as was your original reaction. The thing is, I’ve been on the other end of this situation. I’m by no means phobic or against LGBTQ relationships, I have a sibling who is in fact in one of those categories.. but do I enjoy LGBTQ relationships in my fiction? No. So let me share an alternate viewpoint with you. It can be uncomfortable to read a romance that isn’t of your ordinary sexual preference… it may not necessarily mean that someone’s against those relationships, though. The way I look at it is: when I read romance, I’m being invited into a character’s relationship, and often their bedroom. Whether I like it or not, I am a participant in their relations. I get the visuals, the audibles, and I imagine every touch they feel. Am I attracted to LGBTQ people? Not particularly. I’m straight… so when I’m put into a situation with a character that I wasn’t expecting and asked to mentally participate… it can get uncomfortable just because I’m not attracted to the same type of people they are. It’s the same as when a character I like ends up in a romantic relationship with a character I hate. I don’t think it necessarily means that I’m in any way small minded… I just may not connect to the character in the way the author expected me to. It’s hard to enjoy a romance themed book when you don’t feel any sort of attraction what so ever to the characters. Now, I’m not saying this was the case with the reviewer you talked with, but it is something to think about at least.

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    • Thank you so much.

      This is a thoughtful and insightful viewpoint that’ll I readily hold up my hands and say I’d never considered (hence why I’ve opened the subject for discussion).

      The same is true of erotica, particularly that with a BDSM slant (which I also write). For reasons I don’t understand, I find myself far less hurt/angry when people say they can’t/won’t read that genre. I’m not sure why that is, but I’d like to explore that too, as I find it interesting.

      Once a reader invests in a character it’s only natural that they root for them and expect for the the same things they value themselves. I’m actually pleased to elicit a reaction, since, to me, reader investment is an important pay off the sharing process. I care for my characters, thusly I want readers to care for them too.

      This is a learning experience though, as it tells me that it may be useful to forewarn people of this aspect of the novel in the blurb-not to draw people in (or to send them away!) but to continue to be as honest and open as possible about the novel’s contents to ensure people get what they expect.

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  2. Alys says:

    I really have to applaud your self-control there. There is no way I could possibly have responded that politely.

    I think what troubles me (homophobia aside) is that they felt this discomfort prevented them from reviewing the book: surely feelings like that are the whole damn reason we write book reviews in the first place? To give content warnings and emotional responses?

    Partly, I understand that they might worry they couldn’t give you the positive review you’d clearly want (as part of your publicity) – but would that have stopped them if another aspect of your novel unsettled them? Surely they’d just say, “wasn’t comfortable with X, but otherwise Y”? What it strikes me as (and what would hit my rage button here) is that it seems they know their response is homophobic and insensitive, but are unwilling to admit to that publicly – either by saying they won’t review books with LGBT relationships, or by saying in a review that it bothered them. Them expressing such an opinion might make me dislike them – but it would give me opportunity to seek out your book. What happened instead was a kind of tactful hypocrisy that can’t be read as anything but a silencing of bisexuality. A refusal to give it any platform to save their own face as tolerant, but shutting a minority out from the view of an audience who might be less bigoted.

    But, like I say, I wouldn’t have been so good at controlling my anger. Sorry for the rant.

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    • Hi Alys. 😀
      I’m not sure I thought about it that deeply. It could well be that the core of my anger relates to what I may initially felt to be a form of censoring, but at the end of the day, it is the choice of the reviewer. I don’t have to like it but I can accept it.

      I do agree that reviews are (or should be) far more for readers than authors but this reviewer certainly knows their readership better than I do. As a result they are a far better judge of what said readership may or may not enjoy.

      For me, it certainly would be nice to get more exposure for the book, but, if I’m honest, I value the open channel of dialogue between me and this reviewer far more.

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