Representation in Romance: Why Lauren Blakely Writes Diverse Character Landscapes

If you’re a writer, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ve been given the advice to write what you know – and why not? What stories could you tell more credibly, what characters could you represent more authentically than those you pull from your own experiences? Some of the most compelling stories come from writing what you know – it’s why memoir is such a popular genre. But what if you want to paint a richer landscape – one that explores a fuller spectrum of human experience? How do you ensure you’re doing justice to characters with challenges and triumphs different from your own?

Author Lauren Blakely

Our guest on the blog today is the incomparable Lauren Blakely. She’s an active LGBTQ+ ally, writer of inclusive love stories, and her latest audiobook, the MM romance Hopelessly Bromantic, just hit the digital shelves. She’s published nine MM romance novels (a romance sub-genre in which the romantic leads are both men) in print and audio to date, with a tenth on its way June 28th, so with love of all kinds in the air this month, we thought we’d sit down and ask her how she diversifies the landscape of her romance novels to show love for all in an authentic way.

How did you get started writing MM romance? What inspired you?

My inspiration came from two places – a book and my family. My father is gay and my mother is straight. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and my parents made the decision to stay together. That experience shaped me in many ways, but ultimately, it led me to want to explore this genre. That began first as a reader, when I picked up André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name in bookstores when it first released in 2007. Then I moved into reading MM romances from Sarina Bowen, Kindle Alexander, Rachel Reid, Casey McQuiston, Alexis Hall and others. I love the genre, and it speaks to me personally, in part because of my family. But it also speaks to me as a writer. I love writing MM stories about men who are out and comfortable being out. They move fluidly among their straight and gay friends and they’re unafraid, at the end of the books, to get down on one knee and propose. I love being able to create a world my father wasn’t able to embrace when he was younger. It brings me joy personally, and I hope it does the same for my readers and listeners.

Lauren’s latest audio release, Hopelessly Bromantic

Do you use a sensitivity reader for your MM books?

I use a gay male sensitivity editor on all my MM titles. I work with Jon Reyes from Tessera Editorial, and he’s terrific. He’s more of an “authenticity editor” because we communicate constantly about my MM romances – from titles I might use, to characters we both think deserve stories, to the details in the stories themselves as I shape the books and series. I’ve learned a lot from him —  about certain words to use and not use, about how to frame the accepting worlds I aim to create, and especially how, when I am writing bisexual men, to make sure I’m treating bisexuality with the respect it deserves. Sometimes he reads when I’m finished, but recently I asked him to read my upcoming November release – Turn Me On – while I was writing it since the sex scenes are a little racier and involve a bit of kink. I wanted to make sure the bedroom dynamics were just right and I was treating them with the respect and honor they deserve. We discuss all of his notes so that I’m clear on why he’s suggesting a recast of a sentence or scene changes or anything else he sees and makes note of. He also makes sure I treat consent between two men with the same gravitas I treat it with in an MF romance.

Are there other sources you use for inspiration and information/research?

Sure! I give my search bar quite a workout! Among many topics, I’ve researched great ideas for dates for gay couples, since I wanted to make sure I wasn’t simply writing the same dates I’d write for a straight couple, I’ve looked up articles from LGBTQ+ magazines about bedroom “strategies,” if you will, and I’ve read many stories from queer athletes and celebrities who have come out about their experience of being out. Those are just a few examples.

What was the first MM book you wrote? What have you learned since that first one?

My first MM romance was A Guy Walks into My Bar, and it’s still a fan favorite. I think I’ve learned a lot since writing it, especially in creating side characters. I started working with Jon shortly after that title, and he has been so supportive of the gay friendships in my MM romances, so I’ve spent more time developing side characters who are also queer. Hopelessly Bromantic and Here Comes My Man truly typify that. One of my favorite scenes in Here Comes My Man is when six queer characters all have sushi dinner together in Las Vegas after a concert – it’s a fun, friendship-centric scene among characters of mine who all will have their own love stories, too.

Here Comes My Man, coming to audio later this month

What would you tell an author who wants to start writing more diverse characters but are worried about getting it wrong or appropriating?

I would absolutely encourage writers to incorporate the use of queer beta readers and/or sensitivity editors. As a woman writing queer men, there are things I simply can not know. I want to do my best for all my readers and listeners, telling big-hearted, sexy and emotional love stories between two men, so it just seems wise to make sure a queer man is reading my words before they are published.

Increasingly, in this day and age it just makes good sense to depict a rich world, with characters from differing backgrounds and experiences – to me, it’s important to write LGBTQ+ characters because, well, that reflects the real world. As a romance writer, I’m trying to show the beauty and joy of falling in love in this world, and this world is diverse, so I work hard to put diverse characters and cultures throughout my books.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from readers/listeners in the LGBTQ+ community?

I’m fortunate in that I’ve heard from a good handful of queer men who read and listen to my books and tell me how much they enjoy them. It is immensely gratifying to hear that I’ve done right by them and for them. I also have heard from many moms of LGBTQ+ children who express their gratitude that these love stories are becoming more popular. That’s humbling and uplifting and one of the great joys of the job.

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