Writing Real Men by Whitley Gray

I’ve invited Whitley Gray, one of my fellow authors in the Going for Gold Anthology, to join us here today. She’s sharing her thoughts on women authors of M/M romance, one of the fastest growing genres in the romance industry.  She’s also my very first guest blogger, so please give a warm welcome to Whitley today!

Whitley has asked me to mention that she is offering a copy of Going For Gold to a random commenter on the blog, so be sure to leave your email contact if you can!

The contest will be open until midnight Sunday 9-23-12.

Writing Real Men:

I’ve heard of editors betting whether an M/M story was written by a man or a woman.

Now, depending on the degree of honesty in the proceedings, some editors reportedly have a knack for knowing, others not so much. I’ve heard arguments on both sides. Witness the debate…

“If M/M is written primarily by straight women for straight women, that means a straight woman knows best what another straight woman wants in an M/M story.”

Mmm…no. What readers want is a good story with well-drawn characters they can invest in. The author’s ability in this department is what readers want. The book can be written by an asexual purple polka-dotted Martian with numerous organs and orifices—as long as the characters are well executed.

“A straight woman can’t possibly have a clue what it’s like to be a gay man, let alone conjure one for fiction.”

Geez. For decades, M/F interactions typified romance. Women wrote the vast majority of this, including the male character. This “have a clue” business about male characters didn’t get the press then that it does now (if it ever did get press then). The gay character is still a character. Maybe he’s an accountant, likes golf, favors pepperoni on his pizza, is gay, likes T-shirts versus button-downs, worries about the mortgage, and loves red. See? He’s not defined by his preference. He’s a guy, first and foremost.

“Straight women can’t write believable intimate gay encounters (read: they have no reference for man-on-man sex).”

Well, folks, have to disagree. Sure, there’s the mechanics, but that’s pretty standard, isn’t it? Ninety percent of a good sex scene is in the mind of the character(s). The emotional investment, the chance to reveal the naked core of the character(s). The human sexual experience is emotional, regardless of the gender of the participants. Men who write M/M romance are not uniformly sputtering ‘that would never happen!’ with any more frequency than their female counterparts when they read these scenes.

“Gay men favor the work of gay writers, while straight women favor books written by straight females.”

My thought—no. My favorite M/M writers are split evenly between men and women. Mostly gay men and straight women. There are a couple of ringers in there, though—transgendered writers. Notice they haven’t been accorded a spot in the above debate, which likely makes them giddy with happiness.

Sooo…coming back to the initial dilemma of our blindfolded editors, betting over the slush pile whether the author is male or female, my money’s on the horse called “You Can’t Tell.”


Once upon a misspent youth, Whitley read and wrote stories under the covers at night. At some point, real life intervened, bringing with it responsibilities and a career in the medical field. After years of technical writing, Whitley became enamored of romance and took on the challenge of giving it a try. Inventing characters and putting them through paces in interesting ways turned out to be addictive, and along the way, Whitley discovered that two heroes is twice as nice. A pot of coffee, quiet, and a storyline featuring a couple of guys makes for a perfect day. Stop by www.whitleygray.com and feed your fix for heat between the sheets with erotica and M/M romance.


Matt Justice has worked for years toward his goal of winning Olympic gold. Three decades ago, his father won an Olympic shooting competition; he was Matt’s biggest supporter until he said two little words: “I’m gay.” If he can emulate the feat his father accomplished in the past, maybe Matt can mend their fractured relationship.

Physician Levi Wolf and his partner Brett had looked forward to attending the London Olympic Games, until the car accident that left Levi unscathed but killed the love of his life. It’s been three years, and Levi has kept his heart under wraps. He’s attending the Olympics alone—as a physician instead of as a tourist. The last thing he wants to consider is letting go of Brett’s memory.

When Matt has an accident that threatens his ability to compete, Levi uses his skill at acupuncture to treat the blinding headaches. As the competition comes down to the wire, Levi discovers that sometimes the prize is right in front of you.



Matt squinted at the map. God, he hoped he’d taken the right direction to find the shuttle to the shooting venue at the Royal Artillery Barracks. For the last month, he’d anticipated seeing the unique decorations for the Olympic use of the buildings. The equipment should’ve arrived, and until he saw with his own eyes that the firearms had made it, he wouldn’t be able to rest. The campus made no sense. Where the devil was the exit to this place? The Olympic Village might as well be a labyrinth. Matt turned the chart to the side. North? Which way was —


Pain exploded in his forehead and nose. Matt staggered sideways onto the grass, lost his fight with gravity, and fell. The vision in his right eye blurred, and the inside of his head reverberated with pain. “Fuck.”

“Okay, mate?” The voice came from above, concern wrapped in a Cockney accent.

Matt clapped a hand over his eye, which made the pain worse, and pulled his fingers away smeared with red. Blood? No fucking way. What’d he hit? He turned his head, and hissed as pain thumped his skull. Bad idea. “What hit me?”

“Ye ’it the scaffold.” Feet clanged on metal, clopped on concrete, and muted on the grass. “Yer bleedin’. Shite.”

Through bleary eyes, Matt squinted at the workman who squatted next to him. The man’s wooly eyebrows knit in concern. He fumbled in his pocket and held out a handkerchief. Matt watched himself take the cloth. A wave of nausea twisted his gut, and he flipped on his side and retched, head pounding. Jesus Christ.

“Ye okay?”

Kidding, right? Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, Matt rolled to his back and opened his eyes. Overcast sky, smell of grass, and ringing in the ears. Just dandy.

More footsteps rustled across the grass, and a blond man came into view. Lips tight, he frowned and knelt beside Matt. “Hey there. Looks like a nasty cut. Can you open your right eye?” Midwestern American accent. A fellow athlete?

“It is open. Isn’t it?”

“No.” The hanky was pulled out of Matt’s hand, and Blond Guy dabbed at the cut. “Better get you to the clinic.”

Aw, shit on a biscuit. Clinic? Doctors and X-rays and needles? He’d never live it down. Matt groaned. “It’s not that bad. A little clean up and an ice pack and I’ll be fine.”

Blond Guy’s frown deepened, twin creases forming between his eyebrows. He leaned in. Nice eyes, blue like the steel of a shotgun. “That’s not going to do it. Too deep. Looks like you rang your bell when you connected with the post. You might have a concussion.”

Matt struggled to sit up, and the scenery took a drunken swirl. Nausea burbled in his throat. “I don’t have a concussion.” He clamped his teeth together and took a couple of deep breaths through his nose. Don’t vomit. Sit for a minute, reassure the Good Samaritan, and go check on the guns. “I need to go.”

A warm hand landed on his shoulder. “A quick look. I promise I’ll make it brief —”

“Wait a minute. You’ll take a look?” Probably some former military medic, like Norm.

A brilliant smile broke across Blond Guy’s face and he extended a hand. “Levi Wolf, M.D., at your service. Call me Levi.”

A doctor? Here in the Village? On autopilot, he shook. “Matt Justice.”

“Staff or competitor?” asked Levi.

“Competitor. Shooting.”

“Clinic’s right over there.” Levi nodded toward glass double doors on the opposite side of the courtyard. “Can you walk?”

Target estimated at twenty meters. That he could do. Matt grunted an assent.

“I kin help,” the workman volunteered, glancing from Levi to Matt.

Well, it couldn’t get much more humiliating. Might as well go to the clinic. “Let’s go.”

It did get more humiliating. Levi and the workman — who introduced himself as Gideon — each took one of Matt’s arms and wrapped an arm around his waist. The two carried more than walked him across the grass, through the doors, and into a cubicle.

While he waited for Levi to return, Matt contemplated the gray and white stripes of the curtain, one eye at a time. Left eye clear, right eye blurry. Must not have gotten the blood cleaned up well enough. That had to be it. Perfect vision in his right eye was crucial for shooting. What if he couldn’t compete?


If you’re a member of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group, Going for Gold is up for the Book of the Month for October. Voting ends September 23rd. We would very much appreciate your vote.


Buy link:

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24 thoughts on “Writing Real Men by Whitley Gray

  1. Great post! I’ve often had people ask how I would “know” how to write m/m sexytimes. To me, it’s a matter of having an active imagination, being familiar with the subject matter, and, most of all and similar to what you said, KNOWING the characters. If it’s right for the characters, it’ll ring true on the page.

    Nico Jaye recently posted..Aloha! Plus, a Q&A w/yours truly…My Profile

    • I know what you mean, Nico. I usually come back with “Do I have to be a serial killer to get into the mind of one? Are there any such thing as hobbits?”

      I find it interesting that this question keeps coming up, you know? However, unlike Whitley, I haven’t run into people from the opposite viewpoint–the ones saying that straight women writing in a genre aimed at straight women know best what the reader wants. Now that’s she’s said that, I can see where some people would argue that point of view.

      I’m with you–if the writing is right for the characters, the authenticity comes through in the story, regardless of the author’s gender.

      • Nico–
        You’re right. If you know the characters, you’ll get their responses right. It’s a lot more intense on the inside, revealing a more vulnerable side, a deeper side of the character. That’s where the power of a well-placed intimate scene comes from.

  2. For me it’s just plain all about the characters. If the characters “speak” to me I don’t care who wrote them. And I absolutely agree sex is far more than insert flap A into slot B and repeat. Though you wouldn’t know that from some of the books pretending to be erotica!
    Mona Karel recently posted..Chocolate…Just ChocolateMy Profile

    • Well, you bring up a good point, Mona. How do you define erotica? I have recently heard various debate on this subject too, and discussion about the blurry lines between M/M romance and erotica.

      The discussion centered around whether the label of erotica hurt M/M romance as a genre, and added an additional stigma to it (the others being the fact that it was romance in the first place and between same sex couples in the other).

        • That’s probably the most common answer I see, but I can see how that line would be hard to distinguish in some stories.

          Oh, you guys are giving me some great ideas for future blog posts!

          • M/M romance versus gay romance is another debate. Erotic romance versus erotica is yet another.
            As someone who has written erotica, I see it as the sex is the central theme. There doesn’t have to be much of a relationship. I think that’s why you see a lot of short erotica–none of the more arduous build-up of the relationship.

          • Oh now you’ve peaked my curiosity: how do you define the difference between M/M romance and gay romance? People using hash tags on Twitter want to know. 🙂

  3. I’ve written stories about a car thieving drug dealer as a main character, I’ve written about a dark cop into the master/slave relationship, though the very notion of being owned by someone would make me spit. I’ve done a 15 year old Latino girl with brain damage and a devout Catholic Irish girl even though my grandfather was a stout Orangeman. All of them are people first, who they sleep with and love is only a small part of who they are.

    We’re storytellers, an ancient and very honorable profession. We tell stories about people who are apart from us. It’s our job to tell the best stories with the best characters we can.

    • Yes! *Exactly* So I wonder why this question keeps coming up again and again with regards to women writing in this genre. Any thoughts, Whitley?

      • I think the main source is other writers.
        Editors may have their own biases about whether men write better M/M than women, but I’ve run across some male writers who feel a straight woman can’t use the vicarious experience of “outside looking in” and “know” how a gay character would react.
        From my perspective, I think we all know what our characters want. Men and women write M/M for an audience comprised of men and women.
        If a guy doesn’t think a chick writes what he wants, he’s welcome to move on.
        What would a reader have to say about a transgender author? 🙂

        • Well, I seem to recall sitting in on a discussion a while back where men and women readers both stated that the gender of the author didn’t matter to them as long as they wrote a good story and weren’t trying to portray themselves as something they were not.

          Which made the issue of transgendered authors somewhat tricky.

          On the subject of gender neutral names, everyone was cool with that too–unless the author tried to pass themselves off as male when they were not. People felt betrayed if they perceived any deception in the matter. Again, no problem if a transgendered person who identified as male referred to himself in this manner–as long as they were up front about it.

          But it does beg the question: what if we were all assigned numbers instead of names? Would anyone claim a distinction in writing? Would someone say the ‘even numbered’ writers are incapable of writing a specific kind of fic because it was outside the realm of their experience?

          Do you think male readers want different things from story than female readers? I’d be interested in hearing a from a male opinion on the subject…

  4. I read (and write) both M/M erotic romance and gay erotica. I don’t think the difference has anything to do with the amount of sex. Gay erotica written by gay men tends to be more oriented toward the immediate physical experience. It’s also “rougher” (though the M/M romance I personally write tends more in that direction than some I’ve read) and celebrates anonymous encounters as often as committed relationships.

    These are of course generalities. And I know several women who write absolutely amazing gay erotica – NOT romance – totally convincing.

    We’ve been talking about this very topic over at the Oh Get a Grip blog during the past two weeks. One of our contributors noted that we are not writing about gays (or lesbians, or transgenders, or straight men or women) – we’re writing about people. And all people have some common desires and dreams.

    • Ah, now see, I consider myself to write M/M erotic romance–which I define as a story built around a relationship but with strong, explicit sexual scenes in them. There are times, however, when I thought I was using the wrong term to describe my work. Do you have a link to the Oh Get a Grip blog? I’d be interested in checking it out.

      One of our contributors noted that we are not writing about gays (or lesbians, or transgenders, or straight men or women) – we’re writing about people. And all people have some common desires and dreams.

      Absolutely! But I for one see parallels in the current struggles for civil rights, such as same sex marriage equality, and the attack that women’s rights have come under lately. I do wonder sometimes if some women readers identify more with gay heroes than they do the traditional female heroine. I know I do most days!

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