Update, March 31: J.R. Ward announced in a signing today that her next full-length novel, to be released in 2013, will be about Qhuinn and Blay — which I argued in favor of in the below article, originally published in December.
I’m excited to read this one. Qhuinn and Blay played a large supporting role in Ward’s latest novel, Lover Reborn, and their story is due to be resolved. But I’m also proud of Ward’s decision. Qhuinn and Blay have been a part of the Black Dagger Brotherhood universe for seven books now, and their evolving relationship has been a continuing subplot. If they were a male/female couple, there would be no question that their relationship would warrant a full-length novel. But even though male/male romances are a growing subgenre in the romance world, they’re still mostly limited to smaller presses or niche publishers.
Ward is one of the most popular authors in the romance genre today, with a very devoted, loyal fanbase. I applaud her for using her cachet to bring the male/male subgenre into the mainstream.
But to me, this was never about gaining exposure for the male/male subgenre. Instead, it’s about the story. Qhuinn and Blay are characters that Ward’s readers have grown to care about. This is the right decision for her story, and I’m glad that Ward was groundbreaking enough to make it.
I propose that New York Times and USA Today bestselling author J.R. Ward should write a gay romance.
But first, a little background: J.R. Ward is the author of the Black Dagger Brotherhood books, a series of paranormal romance novels that focus on a group of warrior vampires called the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Her books contain some of the most well-developed characters and stories I’ve encountered in romance. I’m definitely a fan.
One thing that distinguishes the Black Dagger Brotherhood books from other romances is that Ward takes the time to develop the stories of the supporting characters, even when they’re not the focus of the book. Two of the supporting characters, Qhuinn and Blay, have been dancing around one another for several books now. Once the best of friends, their relationship has been strained since Blay confessed his love for Qhuinn. Qhuinn is attracted to Blay, but he sees himself ultimately settling down with a woman. Since then, they’ve been estranged. Blay has begun dating another man, and Qhuinn has become increasingly self-destructive. They’re clearly not the same without one another.
So there it is. I want Ward to write Qhuinn and Blay’s novel.
From what I understand, Ward does plan to write Qhuinn and Blay’s story eventually—though probably in novella format. And I understand why: although m/m romance has been increasing in popularity, it’s still just a small niche of the romance market. Most of the m/m romances I’ve encountered have been published by smaller presses, usually only in e-book format. The m/m romance market just doesn’t have the audience share that J.R. Ward does.
But that’s one of the exact reasons why Ward should write Qhuinn and Blay’s story. Ward’s got a loyal, devoted audience, many of whom would follow her stories wherever she takes them. Ward’s popularity gives her the opportunity to really introduce m/m romance to the mainstream, to write a story in which the gay characters are not just part of the supporting cast, but the leads.
I get it, though. Publishing is a business, after all, and by publishing a m/m romance her publisher risks losing a big chunk of the audience. Most of Ward’s readers are heterosexual females, and a good percentage of them may not be into m/m romance.
And I have to admit: I’m one of them. I don’t gravitate toward m/m romance—maybe because, when I read romance, I like to project myself into the role of the heroine. (Yes, I’ll admit it.) Thing is, though…I would read Qhuinn and Blay’s romance. Not because I like m/m romances in particular, but because I am invested in Qhuinn and Blay’s story and in the world Ward has created. I care about these characters, and it has nothing to do with their gender or sexual orientation.
That’s the thing: if Qhuinn and Blay were a heterosexual couple, there’d be no question that they’d get their own book. Their relationship has been developing for several books now, the same way several of Ward’s earlier couplings did. Qhuinn and Blay have been major supporting characters in the series for five books now, and readers care about the outcome about their relationship. Why should it be treated any differently because it’s not a heterosexual romance. People are perfectly willing to read books with protagonists of different genders or races. Why shouldn’t they read novels with protagonists of different sexual orientations?
I think there’s an opportunity here, to show that gay characters can be treated like any other characters, and I think doing so within an established, popular series would send a powerful message.
As a fan of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, I’ve come to care about Qhuinn and Blay as characters, and I think they deserve their own book just as much as any of the other characters. I, for one, would read it.