Harlequin's new LGBTQ line of romance books 'very empowering,' author says
'Traditional romance has shifted .. being a part of it is incredibly exciting,' Philip William Stover says
Harlequin romance novels are a big business but they haven't always been a terribly inclusive one.
That is something author Philip William Stover is trying to correct with his new book The Hideaway Inn.
The novel is one of the first two to be published by Harlequin under its new Carina Adores line, which is dedicated to LGBTQ romance. Stover told As It Happens host Carol Off that being able to tell love tales from his own perspective is "very empowering."
The story is a "very traditional romance in many aspects," he said. It tells the journey of a man who returns to his home town and discovers that the person he's had a crush on since childhood is "exactly the same person he thought he was."
Here is part of their conversation.
You have been a successful writer for some time. But you were writing books mostly for teenage girls. How different is this?
In some ways their stories are very similar. People always want to be accepted. They always want to be loved. They always have miscommunication with the people they love.
But they're different in that these are stories that I really connect to, and that I really understand, and that I really think are important to be told.
How satisfying is that for you?
You know, I grew up reading romance and as a young gay boy reading romance, I would have to rip off the covers as soon as I got the books home.
Then once I ripped off the covers, I got another book — I think it was like a Star Wars book — and I put that in front of the book I was reading because, if I didn't do that, I'd get the book kicked out of my hand or something worse. I found all these ways to sort of hide what I was doing.
Being a Harlequin romance writer, writing gay romance is a huge experience for me. It's something I never thought would happen. And I really think about that boy reading romance and hiding and reading it in the corners and shadows of the library.
So for me that is an incredibly important journey.
What does it mean for another generation to be able to read romance books that reflect their own experience with same-sex relationships?
Well, I think it empowers them. I think for me as a kid, it taught me empathy and sympathy for lots of different points of view because I was constantly trying to navigate that for myself.
But I was never really sure where I fit in that equation. And I think for people reading those books who don't have to do the emotional work of translating the experience to themselves, I think that can be very empowering.
Smaller presses have been publishing this kind of work for a while about LGBTQ relationships. But what's the significance of Harlequin, the biggest of these enterprises, now doing this?
It's huge. The first time I entered the Harlequin author network portal online, it felt like entering the gates of someplace very sacred and very special.
This book is really a traditional romance in so many ways, and it's about small towns and it's about the feeling that happens in river towns and small villages. I grew up always wanting to be a part of that, but I never thought there was a place for me in those very typical small-town events.
And I've realized that since I was a kid, those things have really shifted. And the frame for how we see that type of traditional romance has shifted. So being a part of it is incredibly exciting.
How much license do you have, in the writing of your book, to be graphic?
The answer to this is interesting because these books are very chaste. But that's what I wanted to do. It's really a greater freedom. I think this book is steamy, certainly, but it's not erotica. I was never fully pushed or forced into making it sexy or hotter. I was actually given the freedom to use, as we say in the romance — heat level, to create whatever heat level I wanted.
And the next book in the series is actually even more chaste. There is very little of that on the page. I really wanted to deal more with the emotions and to have a sweeter romance. So the answer is there was a tremendous amount of freedom, so much so that I didn't have to exercise it.
Written by Adam Jacobson. Produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Edited for length and clarity.