Gay romances prove a novel idea

By Pamela H. Sacks
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
2005

They saw each other from across a crowded dance floor and their eyes locked. Everyone else faded away. It wasn’t until 45 minutes later that they got up the courage to speak to one another. They fell in love, and they’ve have been together for more than four years.

Sound a little like a Harlequin romance?

Scott Pomfret and Scott Whittier, the two lovers who met at the dance club, thought so. In fact, their own story inspired them to start a line of romance novels for gay men. In a recent phone interview with both authors, Mr. Whittier recalled that his initial introduction to the romance genre was through his mother and grandmother.

“They used to read Harlequin romances by the case,” he said. “They would get shipments every month. They would pass books back and forth with notes to each other like, `Good story, romantic’ and put their initials. I always thought it was silly. I asked why they read them. They said it was entertaining. They knew they would get a happy ending. I realized the genre served a purpose, but gay men did not have the promise of a `happily ever after’ on the bookshelves.”

The two men decided to remedy the situation, and, over the past several years, they have produced a line of Harlequin-style stories about and for gay men called Romentics. On Saturday, Mr. Whittier and Mr. Pomfret will be at the 30th annual gay pride celebration on Water Street in Worcester to talk about their fifth novel, “Hot Sauce” (Warner Books, $12.95). Publishers Weekly described the latest in the series as a “fun, fast-moving fairy tale fluff custom-built for the softhearted gay beach set.” The authors said they enjoy coming to Worcester, and pointed out that their cover artist, Michael Breyette, resides in Grafton.

Mr. Whittier and Mr. Pomfret may be romantics, but when it comes to business they are committed to careful planning. In developing Romentics, their first step was to examine the potential audience and how to market to it. Writing the novels, they said, was the easy part. They put the first four together in 18 months.

“We researched and were methodical about reading heterosexual novels,” Mr. Whittier, 30, said. “I read a book about writing romance novels. We researched the gay literary market and romance market and researched if it would be compatible and able to merge. We are very versatile writers. We write many things for different audiences. Once we understood the market, we were able to do it.”

In order to appeal to many different tastes, each novel has separate characters who represent a variety of backgrounds and interests. “Someone might say, `My romantic fantasy is blue-collar guys.’ They could read `Spare Parts.’ Or a buttoned-up corporate guy, then they’d read, `Razor Burn, ‘” Mr. Whittier said. A consistent element in the novels is a happy ending.

As it happened, the authors launched their Web site, www.romentics.com, in November 2003, shortly before the Massachusetts Supreme Court approved gay marriage.

“Our view is that the forces that have made our venture successful are the same forces that have propelled same-sex marriage to the forefront,” Mr. Pomfret, 37, said. “There is a new acceptance and new recognition of the possibility and existence of gay and lesbian long-term relationships.”