by Bobbi Dumas)
This week, mega-bestselling romantic suspense author Suzanne Brockmann releases Do or Die, launching a new series, The Reluctant Heroes, a spin-off from her wildly popular Troubleshooters. Brockmann is a unique voice among romantic suspense authors. In the mid-90’s, writing for Harlequin, she was among the first to develop a series based around a group of Navy SEALS—one of the best-selling of the decade. A successful recipe she maintained when she moved into single title romance with Ballantine in 1999, and ultimately perfected in launching the Troubleshooters. But aside from that series, what Brockmann is perhaps best known for—and in which she takes the most pride—is her aggressive gay rights advocacy. In fact, Brockmann used the series itself as a platform for her message, introducing gay FBI agent Jules Cassidy early on in the books and guiding the reader through Jules’ journey to his very own Happy-Ever-After, complete with a marriage ceremony to his perfectly matched hero. As she prepares to launch Do or Die, Brockmann took some time to discuss her career and her choices via phone.
First of all, why write romance?
Actually, romance was my first choice when I decided to write a novel. For one thing, I’d been writing screenplays, and I felt like genre fiction was the best equivalent of movies, which was the way I pictured my own novel writing. And it didn’t take a lot of research to realize the vast numbers of books being published in romance, or the hugely loyal readership of such authors as Nora Roberts or Sandra Brown, who were both writing romantic suspense.
Did you have any hesitations about romance?
Hesitation might not be the right word, but from the beginning I felt that there was a lack of diversity in the romance world, and that never sat well with me. From the start of my publishing career, I aimed to reach a point where I had the freedom to write about the “normal” world I lived in—with more people of color and yes, gay characters. I mean, I didn’t set out to write about gay characters, but I always hoped I’d have a platform to promote the idea that being gay is as normal as being straight, and that love is love. I know some people consider this a radical notion, but to me, it’s reality.
So let’s talk about Jules, your extremely popular gay character.
Yes, let’s! I love Jules, and as far as I can tell, based on mail and book signing Q&A’s, Jules is the most popular character in the Troubleshooters series. Isn’t that great? I introduced Jules in the second book of the series, and I knew from the outset that I had to write him deftly and with a light hand. Let’s face it, there are a lot of conservative romance readers out there, and fans of military romance can be pretty conservative, too. So I first wrote Jules as Brockman_coverthe witty side-kick, but in the back of my mind, I knew that he’d always be the go-to guy. Reliable, loyal and brilliant, Jules would always, always Save The Day. And as the other characters in the books began to know and love him—even some characters who were blatantly homophobic to begin with—the readers did too. He became real to them, and he won over some readers who began to see Jules as a courageous individual, instead of a random “scary gay guy.” I mean, again, to me, it’s not a “message.” It’s the truth. Gay people are people, with hopes, dreams and a desire to connect and fall in love, to support and protect their families....Our similarities outweigh our differences. Jules isn’t a special gay person. He’s a special person.
You indicated he’s very popular. Was there a backlash too?
Of course. I’ve received a decent amount of hate mail, but so much more positive feedback that the negative is easy to ignore. I know I lost readers. There are some people who simply couldn’t take that journey, and so be it. But I most often hear from people who learned a lot by having Jules as their first gay friend. Yeah, he’s fictional, but his loyalty, heroism and strength make him real to them. And when you have a gay friend, well, that’s when hearts and minds are changed. It gives me hope when even one person tells me that their friendship with Jules has made them rethink their views on LGBT rights. And I’ve heard that from a lot of readers.
So there must be a gay character in your Reluctant Heroes series, yes?
Oh, yes. I can’t give too much away, because it’s a bit of a turning point in Do or Die, but suffice it to say that in the new series, we get to watch gay characters navigate trouble in a long-term relationship. Another opportunity to show how alike we all are, and to let the audience root for them to sort out their problems in loving ways.
Bobbi Dumas is a freelance writer and romance advocate. She covers women’s fiction and the romance genre for the NPR book blog and is the founder of ReadARomanceMonth.com.