I got kicked out of art school myself (long story!), but I love a good romance about creative people falling in love. So here’s a list of my fave romance novels, novellas, and short stories about various kinds of creators: visual artists, dancers, actors, musicians, filmmakers, and more. (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)
I originally posted this list in 2018, but it’s been refreshed and expanded in 2023 after I re-read many of the books here to make sure I was still enthusiastic about recommending them. However, please let me know via my contact form if you find something yikes in a book I recommend.
“When next-door neighbours Carey and Edd’s slowly blossoming romance starts to fray, they’ll both need to use their skills at fixing things to save it.
Edd’s self-expression through pretty dresses and sparkly jewellery leads some people to misjudge him, and his soft spot for strays has bitten him on the keister in the past. But when his shy new neighbour Carey, who turns threadbare fabrics into works of art, seems to need help settling into their new town, Edd can’t help but offer a hand.
Rebuilding their life after a crushing divorce, Carey buys a little house in queer-friendly Clover Hill. Their cute neighbour, Edd, keeps bringing them delicious baked goods, and soon even the sound of his knock on their door makes Carey happy. But Carey’s breakup made it obvious how unworthy they are of a relationship, and anyway, Edd’s probably just being kind. Isn’t he?
Yet Carey begins to flourish in their new life as cheerful, patient Edd shows them around town. Edd finds in Carey a gentleness he’s always craved, and a slow, sweet attraction takes root between the two of them.
Then news from Carey’s ex shatters their fragile confidence. How can they be a good partner to Edd when they failed so badly the last time? Edd is torn between giving Carey comfort and keeping the distance Carey says they need, even when it’s making them both miserable. Can Carey and Edd work together to mend their relationship? Or can some things just not be fixed?”
I beta read this; it’s lovely.
Fake dating + queer women in their late 40s / early 50s + critiquing the misogyny of show business + a wish-fulfillment epilogue that made me do a little dance of joy. Dash Bannon, a soap opera actor, decides that the best way to pump up her fading career is to come out as gay. Jane Knight, her frenemy co-star, really IS gay. Jane herself never intended to come out, but what if a fake relationship would get them both some attention (and bargaining power)?
I wanted to be annoyed with Dash for faking gay, but it was like watching a kid try some sneaky maneuver that you can tell they think is SO SMART and then they can’t figure out why it didn’t work. Dash’s slow realization that um, wow, maybe Jane is kinda cute what does this mean? Priceless.
An endearing rivals-to-lovers romance short story set in an alternate 19th century London where “automatons” (animal robots) are a normal part of society. Their creators are called autosmiths, and Clement Dyer is one of the best. He creates handmade automatons – exquisite works of art – which unfortunately means his business is on shaky ground due to competition from mass producers. The owner of his least objectionable competitor, Duke Godwin, is extremely persistent about a business merger, and since Clem made the mistake of sleeping with Duke a while back, it’s all very obnoxious and complicated. Until Clem finds out what’s been happening to many of the automatons he’s had to resell after customer returns…
It’s a short story that captures just the beginning of a relationship, which left some reviewers on Goodreads frustrated, but I thought it was charming. The worldbuilding and Clem’s character are beautifully done, and the automatons are delightful. If Cooper returned to this world, I’d throw money at that in a heartbeat.
One of my fave polyam romances, and actually it’s become a comfort re-read. As is typical for Kris Ripper, it’s often bitingly funny, but also super-emotional in parts and hella sexy in others.
“Frazier Lane has wanted his roommate since the day they met—eight years ago. When Dom gets them jobs running a summer stock program in the sticks, Fraz thinks the time has come. He’ll kiss Dom, Dom will realize they’re meant to be, and they’ll live happily ever after.
That’s how it’s supposed to go, anyway. Until they meet Pete. Pete’s a wild card. He knows nothing about theater, is totally in the closet, and is one of the nicest guys Fraz has ever met. Unfortunately, Dom seems to think so, too.
Fraz decides he’ll take one for the team and help Dom coax Pete out of the closet and into the light, even if it breaks his heart, but Dom and Pete have other ideas.
Three plays, ten weeks in Yurtville, not enough cigarettes, and way too many kids who think the local summer stock is Broadway. All Fraz wants is the leading man, but he might just get the shepherd, too.”
A wildly underappreciated gay romance following a divorced NYC-based voice actor, Colin O’Neil, who hires high-end escort Hamilton (the alter ego of aspiring screenwriter Henry Davis) for a combination of sex and confidence coaching in being a gay man, since his orientation is a recent revelation.
As Colin and “Hamilton” spend more time together, both Colin and Henry struggle with the serious growing affection between them, complicated by both men being unclear about how much of Hamilton is an act. I was fascinated to see the “behind the scenes” of how Henry patches his financial life together, borrowing the right “Hamilton” clothes from a friend in the fashion industry, getting into character (and the consequences when he falls out of it), and assuming a completely different persona for low-budget porn. All these jobs are in service to a good cause, but Vance and Winters never cast Henry’s sex work as a tragic burden due to his economic circumstances.
Despite the complicated and increasingly mutually uncomfortable relationship, Colin does gain confidence, in part by using Hamilton’s strategy of stepping into a role. He’s able to overcome his stage fright enough to audition for live roles instead of only accepting voice roles. And that’s where things get really messy for these guys. I loved how Vance and Winters were willing to make and keep these characters uncomfortable without papering over their past together, but letting the genuine connection between the two men shine through.
A note on the Kindle ebook formatting: It’s confusing. The first thing is a long excerpt from the middle of the book, I guess as a teaser? And Conning Colin ends at about 50%, followed by a whole second book, so there are two complete Tables of Contents at the beginning. Make sure you find the real beginning of the first book before you dig in.
An age gap polyamorous celebrity romance between two bisexual men and a woman. Famous British actor Callum Griffith-Davies and Spanish artist Nerea Espinosa de Los Monteros Nessim have had an open marriage for almost thirty years and raised three daughters to adulthood. When Callum meets 24 year old Irish actor Jamie Conway on a movie set, there’s an attraction, but both Callum and Jamie assume they’ll just have a fling. They quickly realize it’s not just a fling. Then Nerea comes to London and falls into a mutual crush with Jamie as well.
If you’ve never read a polyamorous romance, this is a great one to start with. The tagline for it is perfect: “Two men. One woman. No love triangles. Who says you only get one happily ever after?”
Maltese and McRae are experienced at writing multiple characters grappling with attractions and New Relationship Energy (with both other people and with jobs), and they bring their A game to this book. Conversations around consent and logistics reflect the specific personalities of whichever characters are having them, rather than sounding like passages from Polyamory 101. (Though Jamie does buy a book on the subject, to much merriment from Callum and Nerea.) The emotional process of the characters, the discussions, negotiations, and genuine emotional moments between the characters are so rich and in-depth. The connection between these three isn’t without bumps and snags, but the arc of the book is towards more caring, more understanding, and more compassion.
Gorgeous, kind low-angst historical between a cis bi woman and a trans man, really loved this!
“Benjamin Lewis has created a life for himself as one of the most respected silversmiths and engravers in New York City. For Benjamin, his work is his passion and he has never sought out companionship beyond the close ties of family. Remembrance Quincy’s talent is as undeniable as her needlework is exquisite. She has made a name for herself crafting quilts and embroidery pieces for all the wealthiest ladies in the city. When soft-spoken, yet charming, Mr. Lewis comes to her with a particular project in mind she is intrigued both by his artistic design and by the man himself.”
A delicate holiday second chance romance short story between two men who were friends as children and pre-teens, until they kissed and one of them panicked, causing an argument that separated them. Quiet, reflective Jonah Lennox returns to Aylminster Cathedral, where he attended boarding school as a child, trying not to hope that he’ll reconnect with energetic, artistic Callum Noakes, the son of a vendor at the market outside the cathedral. This short story is told both in the past and present, showing how Jonah and Callum met and separated. If you can watch them reunite without a little tear in your eye, then you’re not me. The first thing I read by Durreson, and possibly still my favorite by her, though it’s hard to choose.
Content warning after re-reading in 2023: Harry Potter reference (the MCs as kids reading the books); this was published originally in 2013.
Every time I think back to this novella, I end up smiling. M/F romance with two Black leads, by a Black woman author. It starts with an airport meet cute between social media maven / lifestyle writer / self-care advocate Noah (female) and hotshot filmmaker Nick, where their kiss is caught on camera and goes viral. They live in different cities, but Nick is convinced the spark is enough to buy a plane ticket and meet Noah properly. Their long-distance love affair runs into some snags, the first being when Nick cancels a date without explanation. We learn later that he has sickle cell disease and he’s been dumped before over it. I love how these are two creative grown-ups who know themselves, struggling with real concerns, and the heart of the novel is them becoming each other’s best cheerleaders.
(For anyone who’s read the book, I am SO MAD that the short film Nick makes with Noah isn’t real. I want to see it!)
Content warning: Noah discusses, at a high level, growing up with abuse, including sexual abuse.
An endearing opposites-attract romance, with a side of art theft mystery and class difference, between quiet asexual artist Vaughn and brash insurance investigator Jonah, a gay former foster child who deals with stress by having quasi-public and often rough sex.
This book has positive reviews on Goodreads from people on the ace spectrum, and Cass Lennox is ace, so yay for #ownvoices and good ace rep. Plus, this book has two of the most interesting, well-developed character growth arcs I’ve seen. Vaughn doesn’t find the asexual identity that makes sense of his underwhelming sexual experiences until partway through the book. It’s a lightbulb moment for Vaughn that gives him confidence to negotiate for what he wants with Jonah. Baffled Jonah has to struggle to accept that someone might value him as a person, and freely give him affection and comfort. That’s more of an emotional barrier for him than his and Vaughn’s different sexual preferences. So proud of both these guys! Who are fictional characters, yes, but still!
Content note: If you are not cool with the idea that leads in a romance novel might have sex with other people, this is not the book for you, for various reasons.
Low angst, feel-good romance that begins when Sophy James, a graduate art student who values her independence and alone time, meets “ugly” security consultant Mick Hollister by having a near-fatal asthma attack. That wasn’t her plan or anything. She was just sketching him, totally engrossed in his artistically beautiful face (Picasso would have loved it!). And then there was a terrorist with a smoke bomb, and she, uh, got in his way and he knocked her over? Totally humiliating. And let’s not even TALK about what came out of her mouth when he showed up in her hospital room.
This isn’t quite a romantic comedy, but the narration is profoundly funny, and each character has their own distinct voice.
Sophy’s narration is rich and vibrant. Instead of “She felt shy around him” we get “She wasn’t sure what it was about the man, but he reduced her from a shy person with manners to the walking personification of a blush. On her personal scale of social terror, he was more intimidating than the senior art lecturer, a man who drove most of his students to drink or copious amounts of cake.”
Mick’s dry style is best reflected by his first lines, describing Sophy: “The girl had the reflexes of a suicidal turtle and some serious art chops. She had captured his ugly mug with a stick of charcoal – and the worst attempt at covert surveillance he had witnessed since his days of pubescent Army training.”
I kept wanting to highlight my favorite passages until I realized that would be half the book.
The conflict in their budding romance is fairly straightforward: Sophy is wary of surrendering her independence to a relationship, and Mick is insecure about his appearance but able to get over it if Sophy would just get on board. They essentially end up dating without Sophy being willing to admit it, pushed together even more closely when they realizes she’s possibly being stalked, but it takes some unscrambling in her head for them to achieve Happily Ever After. I was so glad they did, because patient, generous, loyal Mick totally deserved it. And I was glad for Sophy too, haha. (She just didn’t need it as much as he did, you know?)
“Eva Mercy is a single mom and bestselling erotica writer who is feeling pressed from all sides. Shane Hall is a reclusive, enigmatic, award‑winning novelist, who, to everyone’s surprise, shows up in New York.
When Shane and Eva meet unexpectedly at a literary event, sparks fly, raising not only their buried traumas, but the eyebrows of the Black literati. What no one knows is that fifteen years earlier, teenage Eva and Shane spent one crazy, torrid week madly in love. While they may be pretending not to know each other, they can’t deny their chemistry—or the fact that they’ve been secretly writing to each other in their books through the years.
Over the next seven days, amidst a steamy Brooklyn summer, Eva and Shane reconnect—but Eva’s wary of the man who broke her heart, and wants him out of the city so her life can return to normal. Before Shane disappears though, she needs a few questions answered…
With its keen observations of creative life in America today, as well as the joys and complications of being a mother and a daughter, Seven Days in June is a hilarious, romantic, and sexy‑as‑hell story of two writers discovering their second chance at love.”
The Trouble by Daria Defore (out of print as of August 2019, I’ll update this when it’s republished / Goodreads)
The Trouble is an entertaining new adult opposites attract / rock star story about the relationship between two Korean-American college students: Danny Kim, an exuberant aromantic singer poised to level up in his music career, and Jiyoon Lee, a serious accounting major.
They meet when Danny insults Jiyoon’s boyfriend as a way of hitting on him, resulting in a slap and a drink thrown in his face. (I could have lived without the slap.) It gets worse when Danny discovers Jiyoon is the TA for Danny’s accounting class. They do overcome Danny’s jackassery and Jiyoon’s scorn, ending up with a strong connection based on friendship and sexual attraction. However, Danny’s impulsivity and desire for fame don’t mesh with Jiyoon’s well planned future goals, so problems arise.
Danny is aromantic, which is only a problem insofar as people he was interested in have reacted badly before, so he worries that Jiyoon won’t accept him as a partner. Jiyoon is clearly falling for Danny romantically, but after logically analyzing the situation, concludes that Danny is offering him everything he wants in a relationship even if those specific feelings aren’t 1:1 reciprocated. (There’s a spreadsheet involved. I heart this guy.)
I also loved watching Danny and Jiyoon slowly getting to know each other, each revealing pieces of themselves to move them from their first bad impressions to mutual admiration. There’s a lot of cramming for tests and rock concerts here, but also a lot of quiet and sweet moments. Neither guy trades in his personality, but they find a middle ground.
Slow Moves by Elliott Junkyard (out of print as of April 2023, will update this if it comes back / Goodreads)
“After a tryst with the only other passenger in first class, pop star Zachary Allen is ready to focus on the real reason he’s in London: kicking off his tour and promoting his new album. The only problem is that he can’t seem to get Gabe out of his mind. Against his better judgement he gets in touch, and Gabe plans to meet him in at a gallery near his hotel. That’s should be safe enough, right? Their totally not-a-date makes Zach realize how much he wants to get know Gabe. After a year of being single, Zach might just be ready to put himself out there.
Gabe is smart, funny and hot as hell. He’s also out and proud and closeted Zach is struggling against the needs of his heart and the safety of his career. If pictures start showing up online, Zach will have more to deal with than just an angry PR manager.”
Sweet little m/m contemporary romance novella. Trans rep, bi rep, queer author. Zach is trans and bi, though it’s the bi part that he’s closeted about. Exactly the right size of story for the length of the novella, which isn’t an easy thing to pull off. Enjoyed this a lot!
Content warning on 2023 re-read: Harry Potter reference. This story was published in early 2019.
And that’s the list!