Interview With Gay Romance Author Lee Maxwell

“Friends have said to me, ‘Who would believe that?’ or ‘That just doesn’t happen.’ Well, I am here to tell them and everyone that it does indeed happen because I have experienced it for myself.”


I’d like to welcome Lee Maxwell to the BLOG. A decades-long resident of Reno, Nevada, Lee is an out and proud gay author of several Gay Romance novels, including the charming and passionate Romance in Reno series of books featuring handsome, complex, and occasionally dramatic (in the most fun way) gay men falling in love amidst the backdrop of Reno’s bright lights. In this interview, which at times becomes deeply personal, Lee and I discuss many things, including his earliest memories of writing gay love stories, why tropes aren’t such a bad thing, and how big or small of a role sex can play in romance novels.  

A review of Lee Maxwell’s work can be found in an earlier BLOG post.

Who or what do you credit for inspiring you to start composing stories, and when did you know it was time to move beyond writing for yourself toward the intimidating world of publishing? Also, how did you (and do you) handle any anxiety about showcasing your work to a global audience?

I started writing after high school. I was still in the closet then, and writing my thoughts and feelings down became an outlet to try and make sense of all the things I was feeling, things that I had always been told were wrong. Growing up in the Four Corners area of New Mexico was not easy for a kid still in the closet. It was a very religious and conservative place back then, and writing a paragraph or two on a scrap of paper when there was no one to talk to made growing up just a little bit easier. I finally came out when I was twenty-two, and life took me in a different direction. It was time to put away the thin scratchings and paragraphs written on bits of paper and get about the business of being a realistic adult. Besides, independent publishing didn’t really exist back then, and everything that was out there said you had to have an agent to get published; at the same time, you had to be published for an agent to take you seriously, so I put my writing on the very back burner for many years.

I didn’t start writing again until 2019, when the idea for First Glances was born. At first, it was just for me, but a dream visit from a certain someone, who we will talk about later, changed that. When First Glances was finished, I was terrified, or I was terrified after I was done crying my eyes out because, after a whole year, it was finally finished and time to take the next step of putting my words out there for all the world to see. Over the last three years, I have read through the manuscript at least nine or ten times, and I still find myself getting emotional when I read it; I think to myself, this is a good story and one that I am very proud of, but there is always that little thought in the back of my head wondering if it is good enough. How will people who read it really judge it? How would I take it if it got a bad review or someone didn’t like it? If you take things personally as I do, you can start second-guessing yourself, and that can cause some inner turmoil. But then I pull myself together, and I will reread the book, and I will once again realize that what I wrote is something to be proud of, and if this or that particular person does not like it, well, that’s okay, too. [Image on left is property of Lee Maxwell]

Lee, what about Gay or M/M Romance inspires and excites you to the point of wanting to write it? What are the integral elements of composing a compelling love story? How does being a gay/queer romance affect or transform these elements, especially regarding adapting traditional romance story themes for a same-sex scenario?

I have to admit that when I dreamed about writing as a kid, I dreamed about writing science fiction. I had big dreams of following in the footsteps of two of my favourite science fiction authors, Robert A. Heinlein and Frank Herbert, but after starting my first so-called “space opera” story, it sort of fizzled out at about page 10. I realized that, nope, science fiction is not what I was meant to write. When I started writing again in 2019, I realized I had to write about what I knew the most about. I am very proud of being a gay man, which is a big part of my life; I find writing about love and romance between men very exciting and fulfilling. Although I write to provide people with some form of entertainment and enjoyment if it happens to help someone who is in pain or is being ostracized or brutalized emotionally or physically… If one of my books gives that person hope for the future and that loving someone, even a man, is so much more preferable than the alternative…if I can give just one person a better understanding that love is precious and that love is a very beautiful thing, no matter who you love, then I have done my job. If I can make someone forget their own lives and problems for just a little while, even if it’s just because I entertained them for a few hours, well, that is why I write.

To me, one of the most integral parts of writing a love story is that it must be believable and true to life. I have had many people ask me about First Glances and the believability of Scott and David knowing, that first night, that they had just met the man they were meant to love. Friends have said to me, “Who would believe that?” or “That just doesn’t happen.” Well, I am here to tell them and everyone that it does indeed happen because I have experienced it for myself. As for having to transform or adapt a story from a traditional romance to a same-sex scenario, that is not something I have ever really thought about. I have never been in love with a woman, so it has not come up as a storyline for me. The thought of two men in love has always been what’s normal and traditional for me, so it has not been an issue. Actually, I think that if I were to try and write a heterosexual romance into one of my stories, I mean really write it in depth, I would fail because I would not be able to write it believably.

The Gay Romance genre, primarily M/M Fiction, has become dominated by female authors, a hot-button topic for some. Considering the concern over artistic “gatekeeping,” yet acknowledging the validity of the “Own Voices” movement, as an out gay male author, Lee, what is your take on this situation? Do the experiences of gay/queer men like yourself provide a unique perspective and authenticity to the genre that isn’t available to non-gay/queer male authors, despite research and/or asking questions of queer men to aid in crafting their narratives?

This is a hard one. I was very surprised that when I was doing my research for First Glances, I found there were indeed a lot of female authors writing M/M fiction and [gay] romance, and the first thing that I asked myself was, how could they possibly know? How can they possibly know, especially in a sex scene, the “mechanics” of sex between two men and what feels good to a man? Maybe pillow talk between them and their boyfriend or husband helps them. I really couldn’t say. As I said, believability is a big thing for me, and I will admit that many of the female authors of Gay Fiction and Romance that I have read pass that test, so they have to be getting their insight from somewhere; I just don’t know where that somewhere is.

As for a straight man trying to write a gay-themed story, I’ve never met a straight man who has tried, but I think it would be an awesome thing. It might just make more people accepting [of us] and help them realize that we just want to live our lives and love the person we were meant to be with. I guess it boils down to whether a female author or even a straight male author can write a compelling and believable gay romance story that I, as a gay man, would approve of and enjoy. Bring it on; I would be happy and proud to stand beside them as a fellow author of the genre.

The amount of sex portrayed in romance novels varies by author. Some readers like a lot of smut, while others prefer the heat to be a bit more PG-13. Do you think M/M Romance allows for, perhaps even desires, a higher level of sexual content, differentiating it from more traditional Gay Romance fiction? Regarding your own writing, how much is too much or just enough to keep things spicey without crossing over into Erotica? Is this something you are consciously aware of with each novel?

The amount of sex or heat portrayed in a romance novel should always be gauged by the audience you are writing for. I read what would be classified as a “young adult” story years ago called Independence Day. It was about a young man, still in high school, who had come out to himself, but it was all about coming out to his best friend for him; symbolically, he chose Independence Day, the 4th of July, to be that day. There wasn’t a bit of sex or heat in that book, and I enjoyed it immensely. Then again, as a healthy and sexually aware man, I find a bawdy bedroom romp just as enjoyable. 

Can there be too much sex? Well, yes. If it is in every scene, you have basically written a porno script and might have better luck sending it to a porno producer. Then again, there is that old adage that sex sells. It all depends on what kind of story you are looking for as a reader. Now, as for writing a sex scene, well, writing a sex scene is actually very difficult. Or at least I have found it so because I know that someone will be reading that particular chapter that the scene is in, and I sometimes wonder if what I have written is too much or too descriptive. But then I stop and realize that if what I wrote propels the story forward in a positive way, then I don’t have anything to worry about. I guess it comes down to just how authentic and descriptive or how real you want it to be. As an author, I will use any words I need to make the scene as real and as believable as possible; if those words happen to describe the male anatomy and what men do together, then so be it. [Image on right is property of Lee Maxwell]

 Literary tropes permeate fiction, and the Romance Genre, queer or otherwise, is no exception. I see nothing wrong with tropes if they are executed well and deliver a compelling story. Your work features various tropes, ones you’ve always successfully integrated into your narratives, so nothing feels forced, tired or wholly unbelievable. How do you decide which theme to use with each story? Is it easy or challenging to incorporate tropes into your work in ways that always feel fresh and authentic to your writing style and narrative agenda?

I was taught early on that every book needed a trope or a theme. There has to be one, or your words and story have no direction or purpose. As for what the theme will be, believe it or not, for me, when a story idea presents itself, it does so as a complete package with a beginning, a middle and an end with the story’s theme already there. The different parts of the narrative may change as the story evolves, but the theme remains intact. Now there will definitely be more Reno books, each incorporating a different trope or theme. One that I have outlined will take place during the two-week Reno Rodeo event we have every June, so you gay cowboys out there, be ready for that one! There’s also going to be one that primarily takes place in Reno, but the best parts will be happening on the ski slopes of Lake Tahoe. So, yes, for me, it is easy to incorporate the theme into the story because that is how the story comes to me. Without the theme, there wouldn’t be a story to write.

Continuing with the theme of tropes, I have a few favourites regarding your work. The first entry into your Romance in Reno series, First Glances, beautifully represents the “Fated Lovers” trope. It’s an utterly plausible story from the get-go; in fact, you can’t believe Fate wasn’t involved in getting these two great guys to meet and fall in love. Also, the “Age Gap” and “Falling In Love With the Best Friend” tropes are used in your latest novel, Of A Certain Age. The book is thoughtful and romantic, never treating the age difference as a fetish for either man. Just as poignant, the “(Best) Friends To Lovers” storyline is not an ongoing one-sided desperation situation, despite the story beginning with just Brody’s desire for Erik. Do you have a favourite storyline that is especially close to your heart?

First of all, thank you, Ryan, for reading them. Of course, First Glances has a special place in my heart, and we will get to that in one of your later questions. Beyond that, one of my favourite storylines is in Of a Certain Age and believe it or not, it is not the storyline between Erik and Brody but the storyline between Erik and his Aunt. Their lives have taken such a parallel to each other. The scene I like the best is the night of his fiftieth birthday after everyone has left, and she makes him realize that as long as there is love, who cares how old you are? One of my favourite lines is when Fran tells him emphatically, “If it is done with love, then let him wipe your chin, damn it.” Her having had to go through something very much like that gives her a special insight into what her nephew is feeling. [Above image is property of Lee Maxwell]

How has living in Reno, Nevada, inspired and flavoured your work, most notably, the Romance in Reno Series? 

Living in Reno is an experience. It is a culturally diverse place with so many events that happen here that it would be difficult to run out of storylines. I think I started writing stories set in Reno due mainly to the fact that Reno was the place where I met the love of my life, and that leaves an imprint on you. I have lived here for so long that it seemed a natural place to start. It also helps that there is a large gay and lesbian community here, and Reno—the state of Nevada, in general—is very accepting of our community.

Have you ever toyed with introducing elements of other genres into your romance novels, like horror or thriller? Yes, Never Letting Go and Of A Certain Age do contain some thriller elements and angst, but would you go even further? Is there a concern that the purity of the romance, perhaps even the realism of the story you want to tell, could be diluted or overshadowed by outlandish elements? 

As a matter of fact, I have. I actually have a story outlined that is not really a romance but more of a mystery/thriller. It will still involve a gay couple, but the main focus will be the mystery the guys must solve; they have to get out of a scary old mansion. Think of the old black-and-white movie Topper Takes a Trip meets The Hardy Boys on steroids. That one is going to be fun to write.

Lee, your Amazon Author Page mentions how you’ve suffered a tragic loss, the death of your partner Lonnie, and I’m deeply sorry. If you’re open to speaking on it, did this life-altering experience steer your writing career into the Gay Romance field? Is writing (gay) love stories a process of catharsis and healing for you and a way to honour the memory of Lonnie and your everlasting love story?

Okay, time for me to get the box of tissues out.

It wasn’t Lonnie’s death that made me start writing again. It was actually something that happened years after. I’m not sure how anyone feels about Life after Death. I’m sure believers are out there reading this, and some will think it’s absolute hogwash. I happen to be one of the believers, and in 2019 I had a dream, and Lonnie came to me in that dream. You would think that after so many years, his first words to me would be I love you, and I miss you, but no. In typical Lonnie fashion, he got this look on his face and told me to quit my damn mourning. He told me it was time to do what I’ve always wanted to do: write. He told me to write about us, our story. So that is what I did. Now, everyone has to realize that Scott and David are not Lonnie and I. Trust me, our lives were not nearly as interesting as theirs is, but I did draw upon specific things that are very heavily inspired by what actually happened in our real life. The book is fiction, but there is enough of Lonnie and me in there that it gives me solace and a sense of peace to know that a part of Lonnie will live on forever. And as I continue to write what I hope people will find enjoyable and compelling stories, I do so with him in mind. He is never far away in my thoughts, and I know he is smiling and proud of what I have achieved so far. [Image on right is property of Lee Maxwell]

What book(s) are you currently reading? Is there a genre aside from Romance that you like to read?

I absolutely love science fiction. I’m currently rereading the book Dune by Frank Herbert. I first read it when I was sixteen, and I lost count of how many paperback copies I’ve bought over the years to replace the ones that absolutely fell apart because I read them so much. I was so happy when it finally came out in eBook. This time around is probably close to the 40th time I’ve read it, and amazingly enough, I always find something I missed before or interpret something differently.  

What does the future hold for author Lee Maxwell? Are we finished with the Romance in Reno series, or can we expect more captivating love stories about hot and emotionally complex Nevada men? Could a new novel or series exist in the works, possibly even something outside the Gay Romance genre?

What does the future hold? Hopefully, one day, I can quit my “day job” and concentrate on writing. As for the Reno books, there are more coming. I’ve got several already outlined, and they are just waiting for me to finish my current book set just outside of Portland, Oregon. And, of course, the mystery/thriller story is in line, along with a gay-themed military book that is going to be a real tear-jerker. There are many, many stories left to write, and as long as I have the use of my fingers to type, electricity to power my laptop and a stable internet connection, I will be a happy man. [Image on left is property of Lee Maxwell]

Thank you, Lee, for taking the time to chat with me about your work and for graciously providing the opportunity for your readers, like myself, to know you on a more personal level. I can’t wait to read more from the Romance in Reno series, and I’m especially excited about your upcoming projects, particularly the “Topper Takes a Trip meets The Hardy Boys (on steroids!)” story. I expect nothing but continued success for Reno’s Preeminent Gay Romance author!

For more information about Lee Maxwell, follow him on his Amazon Author Page, Instagram, and Twitter. To purchase Lee’s books, click on the following links: First Glances, Never Letting Go, Of A Certain Age, and A Second Chance.


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