Tonight Erica Pike will be discussing male romance in literature at The National Queer Organisation, Samtökin ’78. Pike is very familiar with the subject because she has written three romance novels and numerous short stories about gay men since 2012. Books that have been published in the United States by one of the three leading publishing houses in the field, MLR Press (ManLoveRomance Press), with the combined sale of several thousand copies that have earned her a spot more than once on the best seller lists of both Amazon and All Romance Ebooks (the largest Amercian e-book site specializing in romance).
Erica Pike is actually the pseudonym of Sigríður Jóhanna Valdimarsdóttir, an Icelandic author with great interest in gay romance novels.
“The market for romance novels has always been huge in the US but during the last ten years or so, romance novels about gay men have become increasingly popular. Iceland hasn’t picked up on this trend yet, but now I think it’s time to introduce it to my fellow countrymen,” Sigríður starts by telling me.
“The funny thing is that the majority of the readers are straight women, simply because they are the most active readers of romance novels. They often refer to hetero romance novels as a cliché but when reading the romances about gay men there is a different dynamic between the characters,” explains Sigríður.
“In these novels, the two men in the relationship tend to stand on a more equal footing than men and women in hetero romances and that’s something American women like to read. Aside from the female readers, there are also many male readers and their numbers are growing from year to year.”
Vampires and werewolves
Although romance novels about gay men have become increasingly popular abroad, they haven’t yet gotten the attention of Icelandic book publishers, retailers and libraries. “These books are so interesting and fun to read. They aren’t just contemporary romance novels but also novels about vampires and werewolves, science fiction and mystery.
We have cowboys, BDSM, rock stars, motorcyclists, historicals, steampunk, and horror. We even have viking romances, a couple of which take place in Iceland.
There are so many genres to choose from, so there’s no excuse for not picking one up to try, especially since almost all authors have a free story or two on their websites,” says Sigríður.
Identifies as pansexual
Ever since she was young Sigríður says that she’s has always read a great deal of books in English and one day she happened to come across a gay romance science fiction. That’s how the passion for the books started. “I realized this was something for me. I found the stories fascinating and writing gay male characters is a lot of fun. I’m happy to have found my niche.”
Asked if it’s not a bit tricky writing about romances between gay men when you’re a straight woman, Sigríður hesitates for the first time in the interview and then tells me that actually, she identifies as pansexual. It’s the first time she has discussed her sexual orientation publicly.
“It has taken me four years figuring that out,” she admits. When I started writing I thought I was straight but these novels have helped me figure out who I am. Coming out late and finding myself, reflects a little bit in some of my books. So when I’m writing I often write about coming out.”
She doesn’t know of anyone else in Iceland writing gay romance novels for the international market. Most of the authors she is familiar with are American, but she also knows a couple of authors in Finland, one in Norway, one in Sweden, a few in Germany and many in England.
Sigríður’s, .a.k.a. Erica’s books are available in all the Amazon stores and at all the biggest online bookstores, such as Barnes&Noble, All Romance eBooks, Kobo and iTunes. Her short stories are sold on Smashwords.
So far Sigríður has solely written books in English, but does she intend to write in her native tongue in the near future. She shakes her head. “My flow is much better in English. I am currently writing a series of short stories that take place in Iceland but I doubt they will be in Icelandic,” Sigríður says and adds that her next novel however – which tells the story of two teenage boys trying to survive a zombie apocalypse – will be a step into a new direction as it falls into the category of Young Adult fiction and will be published under the pseudonym Erica Archer. “I’ve always been fascinated by apocalypse stories and it’s been great fun writing it.”
Stressful in Iceland
Sigríður has four times attended the American book conference Gay Romance Literature Retreat, where she has discussed her books and done Q and A’s. The event on Thursday night will be her first one in Iceland and she admits she finds it a bit stressful thinking about it.
“Usually I’ve spoken with people who are active readers of these kind of books but now I’m speaking with people who have perhaps never read them. I don’t know why I am so stressful. Maybe because this is my native country and the tradition for love stories isn’t as great here as it is abroad. People here are more fond of thrillers. Or maybe it’s because I’m a writer and not really a specialised speaker. I’m just not a person that loves the limelight. However, I am willing to do it for the sake of literature, I really want to introduce these books to my audience tonight.”
The event at The National Queer Organisation. Samtökin ’78, Suðurgata 3 in Reykjavík, takes place tonight, Thursday, November 19, between 20 and 23PM. You can find more about the event on Facebook.
On the left: Inherit The Sky by Ariel Tachna is one of the books Sigríður will be discussing tonight. She says that a lot of the authors support LGBTQAI rights, for example by raising money for various queer causes.
Some publishing houses make special trailers to advertise their books.