So Long, Fabio:
Leigh Jarrett is serving up Queer Romantic Fiction for a New Audience With an Insatiable Appetite.
Traditional Romantic Fiction tends to conjure up the same image: yellowed and water-stained paperback novels, the covers of which feature The Bronzed and Chiseled Male Figure clutching in his bulging half-human/half-simian arms The Swept Away Female Figure. Her ample, milky white bosoms are so dangerously close to tumbling out of the torn bed sheet she’s haphazardly thrown on; her breasts glow and heave, as the Male’s throbbing manhood is undoubtedly pressed fervently against her hungry mound. The Male, who oozes testosterone and a litany of other injectables, gazes intensely at his Female prize, whose face wears a mask of mid-orgasm-delirium meets a did-I-leave-the-oven-on? look of confusion and fear (lest she burn the meatloaf).
As surely as this trope persists, it’s refreshing to know that the genre is enjoying a breath of fresh, queer air thanks to literary minds like those of Taysha Jarrett. This is not your Aunt Martha’s Romantic Fiction. Then again, maybe it should be?
Taysha Jarrett (she/he/they), who publishes under the nom de plume ‘Leigh Jarrett’, began writing Romantic Fiction for the LGBT2Q+ community 10 years ago. An unabashedly queer, quirky, and passionate author of LGBT2Q+ Romantic Fiction, her books embrace the full spectrum of the rainbow. Taysha’s published contemporary works include gritty and angst-filled romances featuring gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer characters, with plans for a lesbian romance in the future. And her fantasy series, “Drakkar Coven”, is brimming with lust driven vampires, werewolves, and shapeshifters.
Using a pseudonym isn’t unusual for authors; in Taysha’s case, however, there were some personal and maternal concerns about writing the type of romantic fiction she began to pen.
“When I started writing my kids were very young,” explains Jarrett. “I didn’t want the parents of other kids at school to find out what I did for a living.” Taysha was still in a hetero marriage at the time, and even though her then-husband was supportive of her artistic pursuits, the worry was for the welfare of their children. “Kids are bullied enough,” she continues. “It was a non-issue for (my then-spouse), but I didn’t want anything brought down on the kids.”
Taysha, who is austistic, was bullied as a child for her difference from others. Writing and publishing LGBT2Q+ Romantic Fiction has given her the opportunity to express her uniqueness within the LGBT2Q+ community that she calls home. Her books highlight the struggles of those who identify as LGBT2Q+, while celebrating their diversity and affirming the most basic of human rights: to love and be loved.
In the end, ironically it was their daughter that spilled the beans. Jarrett reveals with a proud laugh, “Yeah, my daughter just kind of ended up telling everyone anyway. Like kind of a ‘hey, guess what my Mom does kind of thing’…and in the end, no one said anything about it.”
A favourable outcome, to be sure: there wasn’t any backlash, and she nor the children were ostracized. It may now seem like unfounded concern, but queer Romantic Fiction isn’t necessarily as widely known or accepted as it’s cis and hetero predecessor.
When asked about the main source from which she draws her inspiration for characters and story arcs, Jarrett reveals simply, “From life. I watch interactions between people, observe what they do, where they are doing it…in everyday life…and I wonder ‘What if’.”
Rather than two-dimensional stereotypes, her subjects are also fully realized characters who aren’t solely defined by their sexuality or gender identity, who Jarrett strongly feels have experienced real-life situations as they may relate to those in the LGBT2Q+ community.
Case in point: the inspiration for one of her novels, Shadows On My Soul, came from watching construction workers around town. The creative cogs began turning as she wondered ‘what if’ any of these guys decided they had a ‘thing’ for each other; and, ‘what if’ they began exploring that attraction? And, ‘what if’ one of those men were sexually assaulted by another man? What then? The narrative of Shadows On My Soul follows the story of Derek and Justin, who fall for one another and begin a romance. Derek identifies as gay, while Justin identifies as bisexual; Justin is sexualy assaulted, which leaves the two at odds and leaves the new relationship hanging in the balance as they struggle to deal with the fallout.
“It’s not widely known, but 1 out of 25 reported rapes are committed against men,” explains Jarrett. “Seventy-five percent of the book sale proceeds went to a sexual assault hotline when it first came out. I had a lot of people buy it but said they wouldn’t read it because it was too triggering.”
Another novel, Simply Marvelous, features a trans character in the lead named Attila. A complex narrative with many storylines, Attila’s tale is full of unease, disquiet and struggle–not unlike that of most people who identify as trans. The tone of Jarrett’s work can, in her words, “sometimes can be angsty…at some point in the story there are challenges that need to be faced and it can get very serious.”
The queer community has been overall receptive to her work, as she’s received many positive emails from readers and has had inspiring interactions with other queer folx. “Most readers feel they understand and relate to the characters, or say ‘I identify with this person, I know how they feel’,” says Taysha. According to her, the only negative comments are from straight people who say that the situations and storylines are unrealistic, which could be attributed to a complete misunderstanding of the queer experience rather than unbelievability of the prose.
Surprisingly, the audience for most gay romance is middle-aged straight women. “I think they got bored with Harlequin and picked up a gay romance to see what was up. They love men — what’s better than two hot men?” she muses.
Taysha is currently working on the third and final book of the “Drakkar Coven” series, Alexander, Prince of the North, which is set for publication in early October 2020. Intrigue, romance, vampires, wolves and shifters abound, with a conclusion to the saga promising to free the title character from devastating heartache.
While queer storylines are cropping up more and more, Jarrett shares, “I’d definitely like to see more everyday, contemporary romance incorporate queer love, queer characters, and queer stories.” She reiterates, “Maybe not everyone knows that they have these kinds of people in their lives, but LGBT2Q+ people exist! We have real relationships; it’s not always just about sex. These are real feelings, real people, and real love.”
Aside from ‘Leigh Jarrett’, Taysha also writes under two other pen names: ‘Gavin E. Black’, writer of Hot Gay Erotica with a slice of romance (because every girl needs a naughty alter-ego) and ‘Sara J. Miller’, as she tries her hand at young/new adult fiction with Halo in the Snow, a first-love gay romance.
All of Leigh’s titles are available in digital copy and in paperback from Amazon. For more information, visit www.leighjarrett.com. You can follow her on Instagram @author.leighjarrett, on Twitter @LeighJarrett, and on Facebook @leighjarrett.author; to join her mailing list, click here!