As readers of 1970's The Lord Won't Mind can tell you, gay romance novels aren't exactly new.
"Prior to the publication of this beloved novel," writes the distributor Ingram in its Amazon blurb, "nearly every gay novel and play seemed to end in suicide--or at least deep despair. [Author Gordon] Merrick was one of the first writers to insist that a gay relationship could in fact be a happy one. The Lord Won't Mind tells the story of Peter and Charlie, who begin a love affair at their Ivy League college in the '60s." (Note that it just wouldn't have been as romantic had Peter and Charlie crossed paths at a state teacher's college.)
Thirty-four years later, in the wake of the reality of gay marriage, comes Romentics, a full-blown gay romance line that is drawing interest from Warner Books. Romentics is the brainchild of what the Boston Globe, in a perhaps unconscious Mr. Roperesque moment, calls "a South End couple." Scott Pomfret and Scott Whittier believe that there's a market for formula novels about the love that can now not only dare speak its name but lead to actual marriage (and, inevitably, a line of gay divorce novels). Whittier tells the Globe:
"My mother and grandmother got shipments of romances," he says, "and read them cover to cover, making notes in the margins -- `This one's good, this one's romantic.' I asked, `Why do you do this?' and they said it has nothing to do with literary merit. They're just so much fun, so easy to read. It's an entertaining story, you know the characters will end up living happily ever after. You can read them while you're watching TV or on a bus, and they make you feel good."
Whittier and Pomfret thought many gay men would enjoy such fiction -- especially contemporary men, whose lives are less shadowed by mourning and oppression than those of previous generations.
"Gay men have created a community," Whittier says. "They want to have families and relationships. It's not about partying or coming out to your parents -- these are people who want to have true love and settle down. That's our audience."
One skeptical owner of a gay bookstore suggests that the gay romance niche is "open," but "not large" (coff, coff). This much seems likely: John Derbyshire is cruising Amazon right about now.