Something I've often noticed in romance novels, and not just M/M romance, but all romance: a lack of a strong supporting cast. I can understand why this happens, as the focus of the novel is the hero and their love interest and the journey they have together. The problem is, the stories wind up feeling flat with many of the secondary characters coming off as cardboard cutouts. Now, I may have a higher expectation with secondary characters, and so I might be a little harsh about it with the novels I've read, but I tend to finish a book and be bothered by the sense of absolute isolation the main characters experience, especially in a novel length book.
Making Ends Meet, my most recent novel with my co-author K. Piet, I knew it would be essential to create a varied and strong supporting cast. Everyone around Zach and Wil are integral to their lives, and I wanted to give them all depth and hints of their own stories. There's Samantha, the young, single mother of Sophia, who is Zach's closest friend and listens to him, gives him pushes when he needs them. She has her own story that we see bits of through her interaction with Zach, and those bits make her a real person. Zach's parents are more than ghosts who flit in and out of his narrative; they are important people in his life who give him love and a hand up when he's at his lowest. Even Zach's study group are given life through their conversations with Zach about work, school, and dating.
For Wil, his support network is less shown because the entire novel is told from Zach's point of view. But, when Zach meets Wil's family, they're not just stereotypical set dressing. Wil's sisters have husbands and children, they have lives that Zach is given a small glimpse of when he meets them. And then there's Wil's parents, who are the negative aspect of Wil's contribution to the supporting cast. They're superficially motivated, and they have little depth to them on the page because, truthfully, they have little depth in reality. They're wealthy, controlling people who want what they believe Wil should want, and when Wil dares to go against that, they threaten him with the only thing they feel has worth: money.
All in all, the supporting cast is alive and breathing on the page. They each have their own story, though the reader is only given small tastes of those stories. Without them, the story of Zach, Mae, and Wil would be hollow and boring. :) With parents, siblings, and friends, they're given a rich life, and that's what makes me love a book. Not just the sex or the angst or a pretty cover, but a deeply colorful world with varied characters, and I hope we were able to offer this to the readers of Making Ends Meet.
S.L. Armstrong is the co-author of Making Ends Meet and Other Side of Night: Bastian & Riley. She can be found at SLArmstrong.net or on Twitter @_slarmstrong.