Thursday, April 10, 2008

lesbian fiction and other genres

** note: I have edited this question, just a little, for clarity; English is not Sheyla's first language **

From: Sheyla (

There are two things that I wanted to say something about, not important, just somethings that made me think. One is, are you curious about no one thinking that a dyke protagonist would be interesting?

Well, you see, I liked Laurie R. King a lot so I ask a friend to buy all of her available books for me, one has won an Edgar so that was my first choice. Well, by the time I knew that Lee was short for Leonora I was too hooked on Kate Martinelli's books to leave them. But it gave me pause. I did stop, surprised; disappointed, yes. I want to think that I didn’t think of putting it down just because that character that I liked so much was a lesbian, but it is possible that it had crossed my mind, maybe just for a second.

My second pause after all this was my friend, the one who brought the books to me. Hell, she’ll kill me, I thought. A nun buying books of a lesbian? I’m dead. So I read the back cover, cover flaps or whatever: no, no it doesn’t say anything about sexual preferences of the main character. Okay, I was saved.

Well, I’m exaggerating; I only got a good glare and a sort of backhanded comment on the good of reading the History of the church and the lives of the saints, not my first. And she would have bought it, if I had asked nicely, she would have bought it for me anyway, she is my friend, but she would not have liked it.

The question is: would I have bought them if I'd known? Umm, difficult question, considering how much I like those books now and the fact that I’m actually mad because I don’t have the last one. Well, shoot, the answer's still probably no, and I wouldn’t have asked anybody to do it for me. Why? Hmmmn.

Sure I have read books… “about straight people (and able people, and male people, and American people, and black people, etc)…” …sure, all of those and more. I get to read about communists and Soviet people and the History of the church and the Lives of the Saints too, no problem, some are tedious, some are bad, some are great, all of them precious. So, why? What do I expected to find? I don’t know. Maybe that’s it: you don’t know what you are going to find. So is it fear, of been seen reading a book of a lesbian? Of, hell, prejudices? Of liking it? Sure, go figure: now I want Aud for myself.

Ah, ignorance. I hate it, especially in me, so I did my homework this time. There is a thing called Lesbian Literature. Now I’m confused, I wonder if they helve it like that in the library?

But if you are a Lesbian or write about a Lesbian, you belong to the Lesbian Literature, so, isn’t that a prejudice itself? Aren’t they supposed to be just books? Why is it another genre? And it get worse, I came across something you said, wrote that is, for "Yaguara." Here:

“Fourth, there’s a long tradition in lesbian erotica (particularly that written for straight audiences) that the characters and/or settings are hot, steamy, exotic, sultry, privileged, lush, languorous, etc., etc., etc."

Do we have books written for straights and then books written for gays? Are there books for blacks, or male or able, or I don’t know, all the differences there are in the world? Do we straights want characters like that?

So, if I pause because the character is a Lesbian, do you pause because you are writing for a straight? I don’t like that word; I’m twisted in so many ways that its seems somehow wrong to call myself that. But, never mind. Do you worry about your audience? Do you tailor your books because perhaps not only Lesbians will be reading them?

Tell you what I decided. Sure I will read them, sure I will read them again, now I also know that because the writer is a Lesbian or the character is a Lesbian it doesn’t automatically make it good. Sometimes it's crap. Its either a good book or a bad book. Some are tedious, some are bad, some are great, but all of them precious.
I like your books; it’s a shame I didn’t know about them earlier. You see you are listed as SF so I wasn’t paying attention, I don’t usually read SF, my mistake. And then I found Aud, and now I’m grieving for Julia and I’m mad because I can't do anything about Aud’s pain. Uh never mind that...

I’m going to ask to another friend to buy all your books for me, it may take a while but I want to own them, I want to see them in my bookshelves, so I can remember how much I enjoyed them every time I see them.

I'm guessing it's difficult to get books in Cuba. If I can help in any way, let me know.

Your post brings up one of my pet peeves, genre. Don't get me wrong, I love genre fiction. I just dislike being pigeonholed. I've ranted about, er, discussed this at length elsewhere. In my opinion, there's no such thing as a "lesbian book," unless one uses Carolyn Seajay's definition: any book owned by a lesbian. Like you, I think books should be divided into Good and Bad, or, more specifically, Books I Liked, and Books I Didn't Like. I've written about that, too, in my essay, "Brilliance and Beauty and Risk."

I've been thinking about genre again the last week or so, with regard to young adult fiction--but I'm not quite ready to talk about that yet. Soon, though.

But back to your question. Do I alter my novels in some way because I know straight people will be reading them? No. I write my books for human beings: gay, straight, polymorphously perverse. All colours, races, religions, levels of physical ability. Readers with or without children, with or without pets, with or without money. I have readers in about a hundred countries (according to Google Analytics). I make as few concessions as possible to my imaginary readers, because that way lies madness, or at least badly compromised fiction. You are all too different.

When I first started writing, I used to worry what my parents would think. But when I did that, I found it impossible to write, so I stopped thinking about it. Now if I imagine a reader--and usually I don't--she's not someone I know. She's not someone who can influence my career--not a critic, or a prize judge, or a publisher, or an Oprah producer--she's just smart and willing to trust me enough to take her somewhere strange. My job then is to not betray her trust, to not let her down in any way; to write the best fiction of my life. And to have an absolute blast while I do it.

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