Difficulties of Writing QUILTBAG Genre Fiction

PowerInTheBlood_AReI’m so happy to welcome one of my favorite publishers to my blog today – Storm Moon Press. I was pleased and honored when they offered to stop on my blog during their blog tour event to celebrate SMP’s third anniversary. I’ve spoken consistently about how much I enjoy this publisher; their incredible art work, clean writing, and variety of books offered. I almost never get a bad book from SMP. It’s one of my “go-to” publishers by far. I considered writing posts every day filled with all the reasons why I like this publisher so much, but that may wait for another day. Instead check out 4 reviews of other books. It’s a bit of a random smattering from longer to shorter, f/f to anthologies. I think it gives a good look into the publisher.

For today please check out the excellent post by Roger Armstrong from SMP after the break and be sure to enter the giveaway! It’s actually one of the best in a long time. You can enter here or any of the blog stops. I can’t encourage this enough. Now on with the show…


One of the things that we’re always looking for more of at Storm Moon Press is genre fiction. There is a distinct lack of QUILTBAG-centric mysteries, horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Instead, the market is flooded with contemporary romances. And while there’s nothing wrong with romance, it’s a source of frustration that in order to read something more, you have to look to the mainstream. So, the obvious question is “why?” Why is it so hard to find good QUILTBAG genre fiction? I believe there are a few reasons.

First of all, not to put too fine a point on it, romance is formulaic. There’s a reason why Harlequin can churn out dozens of them a month and why most of them sound like the same story over and over. Romance has a formula that is rarely deviated from. Two people meet, there’s a connection, there’s a conflict, there’s a fight, there’s a reconciliation, there’s a happy ending. Genre fiction has its own tropes and conventions, of course, but rarely is the plot so structured and patterned. Non-romantic plot possibilities vastly outnumber the romantic ones, and so it can be very easy to get lost when writing that kind of story when there isn’t a generally accepted format available.

Secondly, contemporary settings are easy to write. It’s the world we live in already, so there’s no knowledge gap between reader and writer. The writer doesn’t have to explain the way the car works, or how the town is set up, or what the political structure of the area looks like or how it affects the characters. We know all that, because we see it every day. Genre fiction requires worldbuilding. Fantasy and science fiction settings in particular require at least some—and in some cases, intense amounts of—exposition about the world itself and how it works before the story itself can make sense. By the same token, mysteries and horror, while often set in the same contemporary world, generally require a significant amount of planning and research to keep from giving the ending away, and that creates an entirely new set of difficulties.

Third, and possibly most obvious, is that sex sells. There’s a preponderance of QUILTBAG romance and erotic romance precisely because they can’t be found in the mainstream. When the great detective is trying to uncover the truth behind the latest ritual slaying or the space captain is piloting his ship through the asteroid field at impossible odds, it matters much less what sexuality they are than it does in a romance that hinges completely on who the main characters are attracted to. But I’d like to posit that we’re at a point now where the balance has shifted, and QUILTBAG-identified people—especially young adults—are looking for more than romance, for some confirmation that their identity is valid and not limitied to who they want to climb into bed with. Why can’t the great detective be a lesbian? Why *can’t* the space captain be a transgender man? Why does the heroine have to choose between the vampire and the werewolf?

That isn’t to say a romantic subplot can’t exist. Sex can be a part of even a horror novel. But, I think it would do the QUILTBAG literature genre a whole lot of good if the sex came secondary to the plot and worldbuilding. We at Storm Moon Press are starving for these sorts of books, the ones that take us to unusual worlds or make our hearts race with fear. We love seeing a hero in space trying to defeat the enemy while falling for his co-pilot, or watching the grand political maneuverings of fantastical creatures in a world made lush to our senses. Romance and sex can be woven into almost any genre tale, but it’s time, we think, that authors begin with the genre story, the plot and world not our own, and then weave in the other elements of the tale they want to tell. There is a hunger for fantasy and science fiction and urban fantasy and paranormal. Even though we all may be told ‘vampires are dead’ or ‘shifters are so passe’ or ‘no one reads horror’, those naysayers are very, very wrong.

Stepping outside the arena of contemporary romance with our QUILTBAG characters frees them to be anything, to do anything that a heterosexual counterpart character could do. It’s moving beyond sexuality as titillation and into an acceptance of the whole person. It’s certainly not easy to write, and the market is still shaky and uncertain in terms of sales potential, but there is a growing hunger for worlds beyond romance, and I believe that authors and publishers that get in on the ground floor in terms of addressing that need will see that readers are ready and willing to take that leap.

Roger Armstrong is the resident Code Monkey for Storm Moon Press. He can be found (occasionally) on Twitter @slutbamwalla.

Giveaway Opportunity!This guest post is part of Storm Moon Press’ 3rd Anniversary Blog Tour! Comment on this post or any other post on the blog tour with your e-mail address, and you’ll be entered for a chance to win the Grand Prize of receiving 1 FREE e-book each month of 2013 from that month’s new releases for a total of 12 free e-books! Runners up will receive a $25 gift certificate to their choice of Amazon or All Romance eBooks. For more details and to find out about our 3rd Anniversary, head over to the Storm Moon Press’ Official Blog. Thanks for joining us!

15 thoughts on “Difficulties of Writing QUILTBAG Genre Fiction

  1. Kassa says:

    I love this post. Not just because it’s well written and thought provoking but because it’s get to the heart of the genre that I crave. It’s no secret it’s one of my favorites and it was well before I ever find queer+ fiction. I’ve found that the overwhelming majority of stories are romance or seem to be too dry. I’m all about a great mystery with a gay character but then the focus shouldn’t be on the gay portion but the mystery itself.

    I think when QUILTBAG books go beyond the expected romance that few authors know what to do. Some certainly do and I applaud them greatly, but I do think it scares some authors. Either the books turn into preachy rants about why a lesbian can be a detective or why it doesn’t matter. I think the most effective way is to simply write the book but the lead character happens to be different.

    Likewise I think there is SO much room in this genre. Yes vampires and werewolves are hot topics and frankly always have been. This isn’t a new trend. They likely always will be because they’re comfortable tropes. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole world of imagination ready to be tapped. Or even a new twist on the vampires or weres. I’d take that too!

    I think the daunting task of creating your own world and the rules that go with it scare some so we just don’t see it. But think of the immense possibilities! Once a successful world has been created the series can last years. Look at LKH or JD Robb or Robert Jordan or Frank Herbert (+ ghost writers).

    In short, I totally agree and hope more people become inspired to write and read this genre.

    • Roger says:


      I think you’re absolutely right about some authors being scared of moving beyond romance and the tendency to focus overmuch on the sexuality of the characters. By calling so much attention to it, they’re unintentionally marking the character as Other. That doesn’t mean *never* mention it (Dumbledore, anyone?), but it does mean being less heavy-handed and more subtle. Let it be part of their personality that comes out only when it needs to. Maybe the (male) suspect is trying to charm and seduce the lesbian detective, and she laughs in his face. We don’t need a lecture in gender studies to “get” that moment.

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. I’d be very happy to read LGBTQ fantasy romance – I’m a romance reader first and foremost however, so I’d always want the romance there. You are right that using worlds outside of our normal contemporary one would open up opportunities.

    (I take it that QUILTBAG) refers to LGBTQ literature? sorry for my ignorance 🙂 )

    hankts AT internode DOT on DOT net

  3. sing it, Roger! I had a conversation with K a while back in which I complained about how hard it was to write contemporary fiction–I crave the exposition. She said buck up and write what you enjoy. Sci fi and fantasy for the win:)

    • Roger says:

      Exactly. There are plenty of people who read (and write) for the escapism. To be taken out of this world and submerged into another. For them, contemporary fiction is too close to home and just doesn’t provide that feeling the way that sci-fi and fantasy can.

  4. Ashley E says:

    Yes! I love books of (almost) all genres, so this post makes me sit up and take notice. This issue exactly is what drives me just a little bit nuts, because sometimes I’m in the mood for a 500 page epic fantasy, but I also want a little romance and, hey, I think maybe an m/m would be nice right about now….

    Anyway, that was a ramble. I guess, I’m really trying to say that I agree with you completely!


    • Roger says:

      Exactly. And why shouldn’t you be able to get all of that in the same book? Epic fantasy with a m/m romance thrown in? Mmm, yes, please. 😀

  5. Jbst says:

    Enjoyed your posting. I enjoy having other worlds besides contemporary romance in the m/m genre.

    strive4bst(At) yahoo(Dot) com

  6. I agree with you Roger. While I am a huge fan of romance novels, it’s also nice to read books where the romance is secondary. I usually read romance for the romance part, not the sex, so to see a secondary romance without a ton of sex scenes in say a mystery novel is actually something I greatly enjoy.

    One such example is Dance in the Dark by Megan Derr. Sure, the main character does have a romance throughout the book which is focused on, but the main focus is more Johnny solving the cases and his self-discovery. The romance isn’t the main point of the book (though it does play a somewhat significant part near the end), and I absolutely loved the book!

    Another example is in the new BBC television series Sherlock, where everyone keeps insinuating and thinking that there is secretly a relationship between Holmes and Watson (which I am totally rooting for), no matter how much Watson denies it (I totally think he’s still in the closet). It’s not the main focus of the show at all, but it does have an underlying “are they, or are they not” tension that makes the show even more delicious.

    I’d love to see a gay Captain Kirk saving the day, or a gay Sherlock Holmes solving crimes and taking on Moriarty (or even a *le gasp* lesbian Holmes!!). I definitely think there’s an emerging market there and I for one am super excited about it.


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