How AIDS Changed the Landscape of Literary Gay Romance

Authors David DeBacco and Sedonia Guillone discuss the epidemic, love, loss, and gay romance in this exclusive author conversation.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

November 22 2012 5:00 AM ET

First-time novelist David De Bacco has the culinary credentials to back up his debut novel, The Sushi Chef (Kokoro Press). DeBacco has worked for some of the world’s most acclaimed chefs, including Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, and he's the primary writer for the foodie blog Cookin' With Mama.

While De Bacco based his debut novel loosely on his own experiences coming of age in New York City in the 1990s — just as the gay populace struggled with the changing reality of the AIDS epidemic — the first-time author was also eager to snag some advice from prolific gay romance author Sedonia Guillone, author of the acclaimed White Tigers series (which is set around a hotel full of hot guys). Guillone's latest book, Fallon’s Jewel, is now available through the author's own startup Ai Press and tells the sensual story of Kenji, an amnesia-ridden bartender who falls for intergalactic police officer Jake Fallon. 

De Bacco and Guillone ruminate on the difficulty of getting gay novels published in the mainstream press, the importance of literary outlets for questioning readers, and the impact of AIDS on their works.

David De Bacco: I’m not the first writer to say it’s more difficult to get a book with gay characters published than it is to actually write one, but for me, the journey with The Sushi Chef and mainstream publishing was hair-pulling. Right when an editor was interested, the conversation would always end with, "It's a love story between two men — we just don't see a market for it." Is this the same for gay romance?

Sedonia Guillone: Well, I was fortunate because when I wrote my first gay romance in 2006, I was already published in the erotic romance genre. At that time, male-male romance was beginning to flourish with female readers, so once I wrote Danny’s Dragon, I had a ready-made audience. If you’d known about these smaller, mostly e-book publishers, you may have gotten an acceptance letter sooner. However, an erotic romance publisher would have asked you to make sure The Sushi Chef had a happy ever after. That’s what M/M romance readers want in addition to an engaging plot and lovable alpha-male characters. That would have really changed your story into something it’s not, and I really love it the way it is.

De Bacco: Thank you. I, too, didn’t want to change my book in order to fit it into a certain genre. I wanted to express my vision — my experience of life in gay New York in the early 1990s, when gay men stopped dying from AIDS and started to stay alive. I wanted to write a story about the real situations gay men encounter in a relationship. There isn’t always an HEA ending in real-life gay love affairs. Finally, the market is shifting and writers don’t have to do that, and readers who love romance specifically can get that need satisfied.

Guillone: I’m glad too because I love writing gay romance. It’s my personal vision. How I express myself in words always manifests itself in a romance between two men who are soulmates and are willing to do whatever it takes to be together because nothing else will do. Of course, add in a fair amount of hot erotic love scenes and voilà. That’s what I do.

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