When I first heard about M/M romance (in the form of slash fanfic, IIRC it was X-files...) it didn't make much sense to me. Why would women both write and read gay romance/erotica?
Then I started reading it, of course, and got sucked in. Haven't tried writing it until now. But having read a fair chunk of slash fanfic, yaoi (both Japanse and American), and a little m/m original fiction, I had a list of things that made me uneasy about attempting to write it.
Heteros in disguise
This was the biggest elephant in the m/m room, for me. Particularly in Japanese yaoi, one of the men is a man and the other is a girl with a dick. This was glaringly obvious to me because I find most manga/anime female characters annoying. American-written yaoi tends to be better, and when I read one where the guys actually switched off on screwing each other, I cheered. A major reason for my love of Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series is because both the guys... are guys.
So when I started working on the boys for Hawks & Rams, I was very aware that I was already dangerously close to recreating something I really dislike. I wanted to challenge myself by working with a sensitive and emotional male character -- and I didn't want him to turn into a "girl with a dick." Meanwhile, the other love interest was a fairly traditional male who would be able to fly under most gaydar.
And then there's the politics of who's topping, who's bottoming... and at some point you have to take a step back.
It's two people falling in love
What does a hetero woman know about homosexual men? Well, what do I know about medieval peasant girls or high-tech thieves who grew up in zero gee? I know this much: they're people.
I'm a woman; what an erection feels like, I'll never know. But human emotions are universal, I believe. Whether it's fantasy or science fiction, whatever the technology level, whatever the culture, human emotions are experienced in the same ways. For different reasons, in different mixtures, but the same emotions. And desires.
Maybe you saw the gay sex scene I posted over at Shadow of the Unicorn. (It's a teaser of sorts for Hawks & Rams because it won't be in the final story. Caution! Graphic content!) I tried to write a true description of what it's like to be so desperately horny that you're taking risks with someone you barely know, in a place where you could get caught. I know what that feels like, even if I don't know what an erection feels like. The fact that this was two men in a fantasy setting... was just a matter of props and set-dressing, really. The emotional experience is the same.
All the "politics" inherent in any romantic relationship, hetero or homo, are something a writer should bear in mind. But having finished Disciple, as a romance, I think I can say that the zingy flavor of a romance is in the writer's personal blend of the expected and the unexpected.
Because you can go for "completely unexpected" -- the younger, more feminine, less-endowed boy topping the older, well-hung tough guy (sure, why not?) -- and you can be faithful to the existing stereotypes. Both are valid flavors of romance, and have their fans.
Mixing it up, though... that's fun. It keeps people guessing, and reading to see what will happen.
I'm going to go weekly with my blog posts here, with the occasional extra post. BUT, I'm going to add a monthly hangout over at Google+ to my schedule. It will be on Indie Life day (the second Wednesday of the month) from 10 - 11:30pm EST and you can drop by the hangout to chat about self-publishing, writing, research, knitting, cats, just brainstorm for a while, ask me to crit a page on the fly, whatever catches your fancy. Webcam optional! I will have mine on, but you can just chat in the sidebar if you prefer.
These will be On Air hangouts, posted on YouTube for future reference. If anybody shows up, that is -- if it's just me noodling around, I won't post that.
More info to come on Indie Life day.