Tag Archives: labyrinthian

On writing (cisgender male) gay romance and Strong Female Characters

image by Jason Chan

image by Jason Chan

I just got the novel edits for Labyrinthian (my tropey gay retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur IN SPAAAAACE), which is a tad overwhelming – there is much work to be done, though most of it is cosmetic – but also exciting, because I love this book and I’m looking forward to getting it in tip-top shape for its release this coming January. My editor is a lovely person and graciously takes the time to make sure I know what she really likes – which always feels good – and she mentioned that she appreciated how many of the women in Labyrinthian are in positions of power and protection. That was very conscious on my part, because I try very hard to make my stuff rich in terms of diversity and positive representation, but it reminded me of a dilemma I ran into more than once while I was writing the book itself. It’s an interesting one, and it’s one I’ve had to deal with before. I suppose a lot of people who write this kind of gay romance have done so.

My two protagonists/kissy-face participants, Taur and Theseus, are cisgender men. The story is – at least in significant part – the story of their relationship, so they’re both very much the center of the book, and they are the only POV characters. Which means that Labyrinthian, simply by virtue of what it’s about, is going to be very male-focused. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing all of the time, but looking at the structure of my book and the characters in it, I realized that – given how much I care about making my SF diverse and also feminist – I needed to make sure they weren’t the only ones getting significant screen-time, and that they weren’t the only characters with depth.

So I made a lot of my other characters women. Most of my other major secondary characters are women. Phae, Theseus’s ex, is a queer woman of color. And yes, these women are physically strong, self-reliant, smart, competent, sexually independent. Yet all of those things have been used by writers to argue for their work being feminist, leading to the trope of the Strong Female Character.

And the problem with the Strong Female Character is that she’s a cardboard cut-out. She’s there to do a thing, not be a person with all the strengths and weaknessness and complexities that a person has. She might be able to beat you up, but odds are she won’t hold your interest. And in her way, she’s just as sexist a construct as the fainting flower who exists purely to be rescued by the dudely hero. She’s still there to be a Female Character, not a character who’s female.

What makes a strong character? It’s not physical strength. It’s not even necessarily attractive attributes. Consider, oh, 90% of the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire – most of them are at least sort of terrible people who have done many terrible things, and they lie and cheat and stab each other in the back, and some of them are outright cowards, but a lot of them are interesting. They’re strong characters because – at their best – they feel real.

An actual strong female character is real. I’ve seen it reframed as “strong character, female” and I like that a lot.

So I was putting the women in Labyrinthian in important, powerful positions, because I wanted them front and center as much as possible. But I knew that wasn’t going to be enough. I had to make Phae interesting, and I had to do it on her own terms. And I had to pack as much character development for her as I could into a story where she’s not the focus. I had to do the same for the others who show up, some of whom aren’t there for long. I had to at least try. I owed it to them, and I owed it to myself.

I’m not sure if I was entirely successful – I think I did all right, but I’ve learned that readers are very often better judges of that than authors are – but I hope I did. I love the women in Labyrinthian just as much as I love Taur and Theseus, and I hope that love comes through. I hope you enjoy them, even the ones you only meet briefly. I know they’re looking forward to meeting you.

Book news (spoiler alert: there will be one)

I’ve been wanting to share this news officially for a few days, and now I can: my queer science fiction romance novel Labyrinthian, which some of you may recall me talking about before, is going to be released (probably) in December actually now it looks like later in January by Samhain Publishing.

Yay.

A little bit about it, for those just joining us: A few years ago I got it into my head that it might be fun to write about the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, only in the distant future in space. It seemed like a cool idea, but I wasn’t equipped to do anything with it at the time, so it went on the back-burner. Years later, I found myself with some downtime between writing the sequel to Crowflight and rewriting the sequel to Line and Orbit, and I wanted to do something lighter and more fun than I had up to that point.

So I reached back into my dusty idea filing cabinets and pulled that one out. Less than two months later, it was a complete book draft.

(One of the morals of this story, by the way, is try to never completely abandon an idea. If you can’t make it work at one point in time, that doesn’t mean it won’t work at some other point. A good idea now will probably still be a good idea five years from now. )

So what’s Labyrinthian? Per above, it’s an SFnal retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur, where the Minotaur is a genetically engineered supersoldier on the run from his creators and Theseus is the bounty hunter hired to capture him. Predictably, everything goes sideways, and running and shooting and makeouts ensue. Along the way they pick up Theseus’s ex-girlfriend Phae, who doesn’t think all that much of Theseus but has a weakness for hard luck stories and is good with a gun.

It’s set in the same universe as Line and Orbit, concurrent to the few weeks between that book and its sequel. The characters are not the same, and it takes place on the galactic frontier, so the actual setting is also quite different in some ways. The content itself is also different: it’s much more of a straight-up (haha) romance-adventure than Line and Orbit was, and it’s much less epic. Like I said, I wanted to have fun and do some lighter fare, so for the most part that’s what it is. That said, there are some deeper themes – guilt, self-acceptance, and the power of family being a few.

I think it’s a fun book. If you pick it up, I hope you enjoy.

Watch for more news as more news occurs.