Whew. Just finished up the all-day soiree that is the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-up, which happened in Seattle (LUV ME SOME SEATTLE) this past weekend at the amazing Seattle Public Library downtown. Wow. What a facility.
See all about the GRNM at THIS LINK.
I moderated a panel dealing with the future of lesbian romance in terms of subject matter, publishing, and promotion. Panelists included fellow authors Jove Belle, Jill Malone, R.G. Emanuelle, and Kate McLachlan.
One of the things that came out (see what I did there?) in the panel was that there appears to be “parallel universes” of LGBTQ fiction. That is, M/M appears to have the most established infrastructure in terms of things like networks and professional review sites as well as a greater presence at conferences and book events followed, distantly, by F/F and then trans and queer.
So let’s chat more about this, yeah?
One of the things that I noticed in the panel was that no cisgender men were in attendance in the audience, but quite a few straight-identified women showed up (they identified themselves as such) and expressed some frustrations about how and where to find lesbian fiction. Which is something that I don’t understand, since there is a vibrant lesfic publishing and writing community and there are lesbian fiction conferences every year: Golden Crown Literary Society (Arlington, VA in 2016); Left Coast Lesbian Conference (Palm Springs, CA); LoneStar Lesfic Festival (Austin, TX); and several women’s/lesbian events around the country every year that include lesfic readers and authors. There are also lesfic presses that do actually get coverage in USAToday and Publishers Weekly. So why is there a disconnect?
I posited that it seems M/M and F/F and trans and queer publishing and writing are all moving along, but on parallel tracks and there’s not much overlap. Panelists and audience members agreed that if there were more overlap, and more attention from the larger romance community, lesfic might be able to expand its audience. One audience member noted that M/M fiction has a strong contingent of straight-identified women writers, many of whom started writing heterosexual romance and then expanded to M/M. And indeed, you will find quite a few straight-identified women writing M/M fiction, but not very many writing books with a lesbian romance. Most of the authors I know of currently writing F/F are lesbian- or bi-identified, though there are some straight-identified and cismale that I know of who write it.
One of the other issues that came up in the panel — and I like to do interactive panels that include audience participation — as to why lesfic doesn’t get the play or recognition as M/M involved the following:
Lesbian fiction involves female characters (or female-identified), and in western cultures (and many cultures, for that matter), women still occupy lower social status than men. Which means that PERCEPTIONS need to change about women and the characters in lesbian fiction. One audience member suggested that since women aren’t seen as “doers” or “interesting” or even “individual” in the larger society, the perception may be that books featuring lesbian characters (i.e. female-identified) are probably boring since, after all, women “don’t DO anything.”
Which we all know to be false, but nevertheless there is that idea. Think about women in the literary world in general, in which women writers don’t get the same recognition male writers do (see here, here, and here).
I heard a story from a fellow lesfic author who gave her manuscript to beta readers to check over. One of the readers was new-ish to this author and straight-identified. Well, she read the manuscript and sent it back and said she enjoyed the story, but something was “missing.” So the author and the beta went back and forth about what it possibly could be that was “missing” and finally, the beta realized that the story was all women characters. There were no male characters in prominent roles. The beta had never read a book that didn’t include men as anything other than backdrop and she realized (to her credit) how conditioned she had been to expect that men and, by extension, male characters, are the only things that “make things happen” either in life or literature.
Again, we all know that’s not true. I mean, I HOPE you realize that.
Another audience member suggested that perhaps lesbian fiction needs its one “break-out” story, with that one power couple that captures the attention of readers. Given that the entire genre seems to be hidden from a larger audience, I’m not sure whether or even how that could work. There are many lesfic authors who have been writing for years and who have those kinds of couples, but if there’s no road to another destination, it doesn’t matter how many great lesbian couples you have if they never make it down that road.
So I wonder. If F/F and M/M and trans and queer fiction weren’t all separated from each other and instead we all worked to bring each other’s work to greater attention in all kinds of audiences, would that old adage hold true, that a rising tide lifts all boats? Because basically, it seems to me that readers want good stories, and characters they can relate to.
I wrote last year at Queer Romance Month that there was a perception that there’s “no market” for F/F.
I disagree. I think there is. We just need to build the connections to the parallel universes and get that rising tide in play.
Happy reading, happy writing, happy Monday!