Friday, August 23, 2013

Could This Be Love? by Edmond Manning

Lost and Found - Origins

Since the 1970’s, GLBT crusaders have passionately argued ‘OUR LOVE IS REAL LOVE.’ Back then, the argument was a tough sell because the larger society found that love disgusting, immature, Freudian…whatever the rationale, love between two men or between two women was kept separate and unequal.

There may always be people who do not recognize or appreciate that ‘love is love.’ Just last week, Pat Robertson said that he wished Facebook had a Vomit option he could click when he saw pictures of two men kissing. Clearly, not everyone’s on board. But thankfully the world has changed significantly since 1973 when  homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness.

These days, we can love.

We can keep our jobs.

We can marry! (Well, in some states. We’re getting there.)

Turns out, love is love. One definition does not fit all. And although our straight supporter allies may not share the same sexy inclinations toward the same sex that we homos feel, they get it. They love us and support us. Gay rights would be nowhere without non-gays showing up to say, ‘we believe this love is valid.’ They came to recognize that when you’re in love, the feeling is love.

And while we may never have accomplished what we did without the loving support from straight world, activists who have been fighting for decades to expand the definition of ‘love’ can take pride in reshaping the definition. The GLBTQ rainbow reshaped ‘love’ for greater acceptance of that which does not fit the mainstream.

Which confuses me a little bit.

When I published King Perry last year, the book got many gorgeous reviews. I was staggered by how beautifully people articulated their feelings, what happened to them, how they experienced the book, and the parts that touched their hearts. I had no idea I would feel so generously loved by reviews that clearly loved the characters as much as I did.

I say this to clarify that I bring up my next point from a place of gratitude and confusion.

People would often include in their reviews, ‘this isn’t a romance. It’s not a love story.’ They might then say, ‘well, it’s a very romantic story or it’s a very loving story, but it’s not a romance.’ I can see the point being made. If you’re looking for a traditional HEA HFN ending, the first few books in this series won’t have that. The title character, Vin Vanbly, wanders through the world alone, a lost king seeking redemption and love where he can find it.

To not completely alienate romance readers who don’t want their hearts continuously broken, I’ve let the cat-out-of-the-bag on this one:  the six-book series will end happy. Big. Fat. HEA. In the meantime, Vin Vanbly wanders the world seeking love.

And doesn’t he find it?

True, his love may only last a weekend it seems, but doesn’t it count as being in love?

The answer I’ve heard repeatedly is ‘no.’ It doesn’t count. This love is not really love.

Can’t we expand the definition of love once again to make room for him and others who do not fit the traditional parameters of a love story? I try to puzzle out why it’s not a love story, even if the title characters don’t end up together in King Perry or the latest release, King Mai.

Is it because they fall in love over one weekend? I don’t think so. I’ve read romances where the title characters feel strong emotions immediately – instant love – or at least intense attraction that blossoms into full-on ‘in love’ within a few chapters. Of course, there’s usually a barrier to these characters saying it aloud or hampering their staying together. After all, what kind of story would it be if they accepted their love by chapter two and encountered no further obstacles?

So it can’t be the amount of time characters spend together.

Is it because the two title characters don’t stay together by the end? I can see this argument. It certainly doesn’t fit the traditional definition of HEA or HFN…but does that disqualify it as a romance entirely? A love story? Can’t the definition of two men being in love encompass more than one or two traditional endings?

During my thirties, I met a man. We felt the instant attraction. He visited me from Los Angeles for an extended weekend and the first 48 hours, I would argue we were fast falling in love. His name was Makoto and I loved his quiet voice, his sexy grin when we headed to my bedroom. We laughed over meals and he was terrified of the Midwestern summer storm that hit Minneapolis one afternoon. They don’t get storms like that in Los Angeles or even in Japan where he grew up. Every time lightning struck, he jumped a foot off the couch and wincing, turned to me and asked, “Did someone just die? Did that just kill someone?”

We didn’t end up together. Once we started talking about long-term relationship goals, it turns out I had some and he did not. He never saw himself coming out of the closet, certainly not for a relationship, and whomever he dated had to accept his closeted status. I had dated closeted guys. It’s not a good recipe for a relationship of equals.

I remember our weekend fondly, how we allowed ourselves to feel love. Doesn’t this count as romance? We didn’t stay together…we were incompatible in a lifetime relationship. But you can’t convince me that it wasn’t romance.  One of the most celebrated fictional romances in recent decades was The Bridges of Madison County. (Yes, I read it. Gag.) The two characters never ended up together and it was assumed from the onset that they never would. While you may question the extreme cheesiness of that book, nobody ever questioned that it was a romance.

The other argument I’ve heard is that Vin loves his men in more of a brotherly way. That these King
Weekends are not true love, but agape, the Greek concept of deep, male love, a definition expanded by Christianity to mean brotherly love, love for all of humanity. Sure, Vin has some of this in him. But I don’t think people with ‘agape’ in their hearts spend much time telling their beloved, “Suck my dick.” Vin loves these men physically, spiritually, emotionally. He loves them with every fiber, including sexually.

When you are in love love and you truly love them, you want the best for that other person. You want their life to be better, for them to shine brighter. But that non-selfish part of being in love is one dimension of being in love. Wanting to inspire the best in someone else doesn’t preclude wanting to bend them over a bale of hay and fuck them silly.

Personally, I think Vin wants the love from each King Weekend to last. I think he goes into these weekends with his bruised and broken heart still hopeful, wondering if this time the weekend love will somehow find a way to last. He may be the one who cuts it short, convincing himself it couldn’t possibly work, but somewhere in him remains a spark of hope the other man will not accept that limitation.

Toward the end of King Mai, Vin ponders to himself these words:
Who knows? Perhaps this is the king who sets me free.
I will become a Found King any day now. I know it. I feel it.

Vin is hopeful. Unfortunately, because the book takes place in 1996 and we already know in 1999 Vin remains a Lost King, we know his faith is misplaced…it’s not happening anytime soon for him.
But he hopes. He believes.

And he loves his men with this hope that perhaps one King Weekend will last beyond Sunday noon….
It seems a shame not to acknowledge his love as real. It’s too bad his romances aren’t recognized as a true romance. I don’t think there’s anyone more romantic or more ready for lasting love than the narrator of these fairy tales, Vin Vanbly. He may only get a weekend with these men, but the breakup pains him, and he misses each man the way you would miss a lover who you weren’t finished loving.

One day Vin’s love will be recognized as valid and real. The definition of ‘love’ and ‘romance’ will expand to see him.

The doors of the kingdom will open wide and at last, at long last, Vin and his goofy love, will be welcomed home.

Edmond Manning is the author of King Perry and most recently (July 15, 2013), King Mai. You need not have read that first book to enjoy King Mai. Feel free to email Edmond:


  1. I also believe that, although they aren't together, Vin and these Found Kings do continue to love each other. The lovely thing about love that you willingly release to the universe rather than wrestling to the ground to pin down, is that it is often felt even stronger because it's not tainted by bad memories. I've also had a few moments in my life where I loved deep and hard but not long. To this day, I look back and think about the love I still have for them. I'm all for expanding the romance label beyond the two endings. What about death? Does that mean you loved that person any less or that you don't still love them? My thoughts. ~Posy

    1. Oooo - good observations, Posy. Love it. My dad died a few years ago and my mom loves him still. As far as she's concerned, the relationship is ongoing. He's know...away right now.

    2. I once wrote a story where death was very much a major player. Years later that man still loved his husband. I actually wrote that story because it is my greatest fear, to lose the one I love and who I've decided to build my life with. Writing is therapy. :)

  2. I am one of those reviewers that said King Perry wasn't a romance story but my caveat to that was that it is, most definitely, a love story. I meant only positive things when I said it wasn’t a romance. I read many romance novels and I love a number of them but, for me, both the King books transcended the status of romance. Perhaps I’m not giving romance novels enough credit but even of those I love, very few if any, have moved me and affected me the way that the King novels have done.

    But I think my idea of romance and love is different than what you seem to be saying here. I look at romance as that which surrounds love; something that can lead to love or that grows out of love, a way to show the one you love or think you might be able to love how you feel. I guess what I’m saying is that I place love above romance although the two are often intertwined. Having said that I think that what Vin does to help the Lost Kings become Found are some of the most romantic things I have ever read. The lengths he goes to for these men are something that very few of us will ever experience.

    1. Allison, you wrote a lovely, *lovely* review and I'm grateful. I totally am up for a difference of opinion and am glad for the conversation around it. Thank you! I get what you're saying about the relationship between romance and love - I hadn't thought of it that way.

      I don't think I was thinking of your review specifically when writing this piece. Someone online told me, "I won't read your books because I only read romance, and you're aren't. The reviews say so."

      I was rather shocked by this. I view these stories as atypical romance novels...but I hadn't really considered them NOT romance.


      An interesting conversation!


    2. I didn't think you were referring to my review in particular. :) I just wanted to explain myself, thinking maybe others felt the same way.

      I hope you are having a wonderful evening.

  3. I have to agree with Alison that King Perry and King Mai both transcend the romance genre. The romance genre, qua genre, has some built-in limitations, and there are perhaps valid reasons for them. However, in transcending that narrow definition, these novels also expand the definition of romance in new directions, and maybe that is a hopeful sign for Vin and for all of us. I think of romance this way in connection with Vin and the Lost and Found Kings: Vin is romancing the Found King from the Lost King, and so everything he does on a king weekend is romantic.

    As for love, one of my favorite authors of children's books--and some adult books and memoirs as well--was Madeleine L'Engle. In several of her books, she advanced the idea the idea that love is at least as much of a state of being as it is a feeling. I cannot know what the love of my life feels when he tells me he loves me, nor can he know what I feel. We could be speaking of two very different feelings. But I know he loves me because of the way he treats me every day as if my life and happiness are the most important things in the world to him, and I try to show him my love the same way. And those things we do to show one another our love are not always big sweeping gestures, but are sometimes smaller things--a touch, a shared joke, and yes, sex. And sometimes things done for love even hurt a little, when the love has to help us grow. In that sense, Vin is brimming with love for his Lost Kings when he puts everything he is into helping them become Found. With that much love to give, there can't be much room in his heart for despair, so it becomes hope instead.

    1. Wow. I may have to ask you to write the next book in the series, Andi. I think you're articulating it better than I could. I love exploring 'what is romance' and 'what is love's relationship to romance?' I love these questions and I appreciate you (and Posy and Allison) giving them such thoughtful consideration.

      Tonight, I am going to think about how I put love into the world. My brother is visiting with his girlfriend and they're meeting my sweetie for the first time. I've got three people at my table tonight to love, each in a different way.


  4. HI Edmond, Tom here in Northfield for a Carleton College reunion planning event. I really enjoyed King Perry as a fun read about the ongoing adventure of looking for love and loving men on my journey as a gay man. I look forward to King Mai as a sequel and am so grateful for the genre' you are creating for the here and now. Yes we can now marry and keep our jobs here in Minnesota, and for the under 40's LGBTQ issues are non issues. My sons are part of that. So with a wider understanding of love, what's at risk to continue to enjoy and live and love fully on our live's journeys. Keep up your passion AND your articulate sense of humor. Cheers bro.....A Two spirited sycamore of a man and a tree.

  5. Time and time again as I read King Mai, I was reminded of a woman I knew 30 years ago. At the time, I was training to be a nurse (not a vocation I pursued for long) and working on a convalescent unit for kids. Most of the patients were post-op kids, but occasionally they nursed terminally ill babies with severe birth defects. At the time I was on the unit, there were 2 such babies and both were cared for by Judy, as apparently they always were. The parents of both babies had withdrawn and had no contact with them.

    At the time, at 19, I didn't really appreciate what I was seeing Judy do. She opened her heart to those babies and loved them, without reservation, as if they were her own. She spent every moment she could with those babies; she not only kept them fed, clean and comfortable, she cuddled them, talked to them and sang to them. She loved them, knowing they were going to die, with no regard to the grief she was going to feel when that happened - and I saw firsthand how much she did grieve.

    Vin's love is a very different type of love, but he reminded me of Judy so much, and the word that keeps popping into my head about both of them is 'brave'. Love is beautiful, whatever form it takes, and I believe that it enriches both the lover and the loved for however long it lasts.

  6. My theory is that the people who don't find it romance are those who feel that Vin is trying to change these men: be sort of a fixer-upper and then move on (or that the men are so different by the end of the weekend that the relationship wouldn't be the same). It's clear to me, though, that Vin embraces the totality of what these men are, or he wouldn't be drawn to them in the first place. He's about drawing that wholeness out of them. It's a distinction that seemed clearer to me after KING MAI, so maybe people's minds will change by the end of the series.