Okay, it’s actually been finished for a few weeks, but I’ve been so busy with other stuff, I haven’t really talked about it.
The first reports back from beta readers indicate I may have something here. I was told that it hooked them and carried them right through the story and the occult stuff was really creepy and interesting. Score!
There have been criticisms, of course. The beginning may throw the reader into a bizarre environment (called “the Temple” — sort of a free-love, occult commune) a bit abruptly without giving her or him time to get used to the idea. Additionally, some of the occult information is imparted in big wads of text that would be better served by dialog, perhaps. And my husband, Erich, felt that adding one or two characters with speaking parts might serve to increase the impression of the Temple being a busy place with a lot of people, and could also divert suspicion from the obvious “suspects.” (As a “murder mystery,” the ending is a bit too obvious, perhaps, but the story apparently works well on other levels.)
Two things that gave everyone pause: the sexual acrobatics and the open relationship between Jeremy (the viewpoint character) and his love interest, Bowyn.
Sexual acrobatics…well, I set out to write a novel that takes place in a free-love commune. It was deliberately designed to provide me with a lot of opportunities for casual sex between the characters. Nobody has complained about that, specifically, but there’s one scene that gets pretty kinky, and it’s been raising some eyebrows. When I ask, “Should I change it?” I invariably get a response along the lines of, “I’m not sure….” Nobody is certain whether it pushes the boundary too far, or just enough to be vaguely uncomfortable.
That’s something I might run by my publisher. The scene doesn’t technically violate their submission standards (or the standards of most publishers of M/M erotic stories), but they know what they’re comfortable with.
The open relationship might be a bigger issue.
I believe in open relationships. Several of my friends have been in “poly” relationships and they seem perfectly happy, or at least as happy as anybody else. True, sometimes poly relationships blow up or otherwise disintegrate due to jealousy or for other reasons, but so do monogamous relationships. In my story, Jeremy realizes that the poly relationship he had with Bowyn eight years ago fell apart because he (Jeremy) was too jealous of Bowyn showing affection for one of their mutual friends. He was fine with Bowyn sleeping with other men. But he couldn’t handle Bowyn loving anybody but Jeremy.
Jeremy and Bowyn end up deciding that they need to be together. And for that to work, they need for their love to be exclusive. But the possibility of casual sex with other men now and then isn’t completely eliminated, due to the situation. This, to me, is a perfectly good solution and a happy ending for the romance. Unfortunately, a lot of romance readers would probably disagree. For them, the only happy ending is a monogamous (emotionally AND sexually) ending. It’s possible to have a threesome, of course, but even then, most readers would prefer that all three people involved be monogamous to that relationship.
Should I change it? I don’t know. This isn’t as simple as modifying one scene to remove some kinky sex. Two men who co-founded a “sex cult” aren’t just going to decide casual sex is “bad.” They don’t think it’s bad. For them to suddenly decide to put that life completely behind them and start over as a traditionally monogamous couple living in suburbia in a house with a white picket fence…well, I can’t see that happening. And I don’t think I could make it believable to readers.
So once again I find myself with a book that a lot of people tell me is really good…but they don’t think it will have broad audience appeal.
The story of my (writing) life.
Incidentally, I have to change the title. It’s no longer about a requiem — it’s about a mass. But Murderous Mass would be a terrible title….